Among the most effective skills I have developed across the decades of my career is the ability to network well. To understand who people are, why they are important, how to connect with them, and the value of consistently communicating with them is vital to effective networking.
I’d like to have you consider this skill in terms of methods and values.
Methods – The methods for effective networking are faster, more responsive, and less costly than ever. When I began to understand it in the 1980s, we networked with land line telephones, fax machines, post cards, letters, and face to face meetings. Over thirty years later, we network through mobile phones (calls and SMS messages), email, social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and probably others…), Skype video calls, and occasionally even meeting face to face. One has to find the methods that best fits his or her communication style, time commitments, and technological abilities to choose well.
Values – Knowing one’s purposes for networking and the intended results for it will shape most of his or her values in networking. My phone, and probably your phone, is full of names, email addresses, mobile and office phone numbers. Those of us with smart phones have more computing power in our hands than there was on the first moon landing craft in the 1960s. We can use that computing power wisely or foolishly, our values for networking will make the difference. Stated below are some simple values for networking effectively:
· Communicate frequently. It has been important to me to send a devotional thought to friends and colleagues every Monday morning for well over ten years. The list of people to whom I send these notes is nearly 900 all around the world. One weekly email helps me stay connected with a very wide network. I also aim to send emails to this separate list of sports chaplaincy colleagues every Friday. This list contains several hundred people from six continents as well. This frequency seems to work to do what I hope to accomplish with emailed devotions and notes for sports chaplains, character coaches, and sports mentors.
· Communicate briefly. The attention span of consumers of electronic material seems to be shortening all the time. To keep one’s correspondence to around 250-300 words gives your message a chance to be consumed completely. If it’s too long, most will check out just part of the way through your thoughts. The confines of Twitter’s 140 character format have actually helped me find ways to communicate very succinctly.
· Communicate freely. Don’t expect a prompt reply from all those with whom you communicate. My experience is that very few will reply at all. Even if your note really resonates with a person’s heart and produces great fruit, the impacted person is not likely to write you back. If you can’t handle that lack of response, don’t set yourself up for disappointment by sharing your thoughts in this manner. Think of it like radio or broadcast television. You cast your communication into the air and hope it has the intended effect, but you seldom know if it’s connecting until much later.
· Communicate directly. In networking, regardless of the media, it is wise to be direct and to come straight to the point. A handshake, the repetition of the person’s name, a connection with his or her company, and the exchange of business cards has been the stock in trade of those who network well for decades. This same sort of direct communication is most effective in building one’s network through electronic and social media. Get to the point, quickly.
No matter the chosen media or method, we can be effective networkers as we shape the process by wise application of values for the process. “Please give me your contact information and I’ll be sure to be in touch.” It’s about that simple. Build your network and broaden your influence. It’s worth the time and effort. I promise.