Networking in a Hybrid World — Part I

January 22, 2024

We tend to think of networking in purely transactional terms (“What can this person do for me?”) which is why many people dread it. Asking for something from someone you have no relationship with feels distasteful for a reason — because it is! But reframing networking as relationship building, an ongoing effort to connect with others, can make it feel a little less intimidating and a little more appealing.

Consider what makes for a successful relationship: authenticity, generosity, and empathy. These characteristics are not concerned with keeping score or ROI. Instead, they focus on fostering a particular dynamic that exists when people trust each other, ask for help solving problems, and stay connected even when they aren’t currently engaged in business together.

Where do you begin?

  1. Start with a self-assessment. Consider who you can learn from, who can make your work more meaningful, who makes your days more fun, and who may want to follow your path. Maybe you’re looking for a role model to learn from or maybe you’re ready to serve as a mentor. At this stage in your career, what type of relationship would be most meaningful and useful?
  2. Develop a strategy to find the right people. Once you know the type of individuals you’re looking for, find them! Would firm colleagues or partners fit the bill? Or do you need to explore member organizations, alumni groups, online connections, events, or virtual spaces — or a mix of these?
  3. Determine your relationship-building goals. Do you want to maintain the relationships you already have? Or would deepening some of your loose connections into more meaningful relationships be most helpful? What about making new connections? Your goals will drive your tactics in Step 4.
  4. Get tactical. We build relationships through touchpoints. These range from low-touch interactions, like on social media and via personal emails, to high-touch interactions, such as meeting one-on-one in person.

To maintain relationships you already have: Review your contacts, going through emails, contact lists, and files. List the most valuable contacts you know, based on what you’re trying to achieve — e.g., finding someone you can learn from versus serving as a mentor. Plan four to 12 touchpoints throughout the year, including some high-touch options like an in-person one-on-one meeting.

To deepen loose connections into more meaningful relationships: These will be mostly low touch, but it’s important to think about frequency; don’t reach out only when you need something! Leverage existing means to get closer. Are you already in a group chat or attending the same meetings as someone you want to know better? You can move from low- to high-touch interactions without getting weird. For example, take an online relationship offline by meeting up when you’re in the same place.

To make new connections: Think strategically about where the people you want to meet are and how you can comfortably be an active participant when you get together. For example, email an event organizer to offer your help. Or get involved by speaking at an event or posting thought-leadership pieces online — then asking open-ended questions to invite comments.

Making new connections is arguably the toughest part of networking. We have tips for successfully navigating the challenges, so stay tuned for part two of this series!