How to Network the Right Way: Focus on People vs. Results

“We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Networking is all about building relationships.

I know we all know this. But it’s worth emphasizing that everything else – introductions, small talk, business cards, follow-up emails, thank you notes, etc. – should serve this primary goal.

This 2015 article in Entrepreneur said:

“The best networking comes from genuine relationships, not a business card exchange. No matter whom you’re trying to build a relationship with, treating that person as a friend rather than a business contact will take you much further with the relationship.”

I used to have a difficult time with this because I felt disingenuous and uncomfortable. I put pressure on myself to achieve some kind of result in networking situations. However, I could never quite explain what result I felt I was supposed to get.

When I realized networking was ultimately about building authentic relationships, rather than small talk or acting as extroverted as possible, a new world opened up and everything changed.

Networking became natural (and far less intimidating), even as an introvert.

So if you struggle with networking and putting yourself out there, this post is for you. But if you are an enthusiastic conversationalist who thrives off the energy of cocktail mixers, don’t stop reading. This post is also for you.

Here are a few key principles you can use to unlock more fruitful relationships through networking.

1. Decide to be genuinely interested

It’s funny to admit that I had to learn this one. But what I mean is this – rather than focusing on the entire sea of new faces, focus on the individual person. Remember when you meet someone that she is her own, incommunicable, deeply complex self.

As the Catechism states, “The divine image is present in every man” (CCC 1702). Pondering that truth alone should be enough to have us in awe of each person we meet. Yet too often we let our minds and hearts be distracted by people, thoughts, or goals other than the person right in front of us. We forget to afford her the dignity of our attention. Instead we see the conversation as a means to a business end, though sometimes we don’t realize it.

So decide ahead of time that you will be genuinely interested in the other person, simply because she is a person.

2. Listen and be present

I used to think people who were the best at networking, sales, and marketing got really good at talking about themselves. But now I’ve learned the opposite is true – the key to networking is listening.

This requires learning to be silent.

Resist the urge to interrupt. Ask a question and wait for the answer. Don’t focus on preparing your next response. In a culture that is full of both audible and visual “noise,” I believe mastering the art of listening is increasingly more important and will set you apart immediately.

As Mother Teresa said, “We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

The ability to be silent, sit in conversation, and be present with another person is invaluable.  In networking situations where everyone has their own “agenda” and reasons for attending, this one skill could distinguish you from hundreds of other people. You could be the sole person who actually allows that person to feel heard and affirms the dignity of the work they’re doing, without asking for anything in return.

3. Build a relationship – period

You will always have your own “agenda” for advancing your career or business, and networking opens up incredible opportunities to help you.

However, once your mindset is consumed with results and what you can get from a certain relationship, you run the risk of forgetting about the other person. And connecting with the individual person is what great networking is all about anyway.

Ultimately, great networking depends on this: focusing on the person vs. the result. All networking techniques and tips will only work insofar as you embrace people first.

Think of how you would want to be treated, what questions you would love to be asked, what body language would make you feel comfortable, what comments would help put you at ease and feel valuable... Then personalize it and adapt it to your own relationship-building style.

I’ll finish with this important perspective from Mother Teresa:

“In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results, and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East especially in India I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving. It is not in the result of loving.”

Discussion questions

  • What is the most challenging part of networking for you?

  • How does it make you feel to think about business networking as an opportunity to love?

Emma Moran loves all things design and business. She has Bachelor’s in multimedia and marketing as well as a Master’s in Business from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emma was the director of a marketing and communications department at a Catholic high school before starting her own business, Creatives on Fire. You can learn more about how she helps female creative entrepreneurs here and check out more of her writing here. She is also a wife and mother of two beautiful daughters.