You hear a great deal about the importance of networking. I’ve blogged on it before. A couple of nights ago I had dinner at the Tuck School of Business with a colleague, Richard McNulty, and his family. He and his wife, Neely, are fun to spend an evening with, but their two kids, Mason, 15-year old girl, and Braxton, 12-year old boy, are really the master networkers.
Here’s what I learned about networking from M and B:
1. First impressions matter. Trite maybe, but upon meeting both Mason and Braxton, each approached me, offered a hand to shake, looked me in the eye, and said, “Hello, nice to meet you” (“see you again” in Braxton’s case, as he remembered singing karaoke with me in San Francisco about five years ago – not bad for a 10-year old). I was immediately put at ease by their approach, and also intrigued to learn more about them.
2. Be interesting and informed. Braxton picked up early on in the conversation my interest in sports and that I have a son at VCU. He immediately started talking about Shaka Smart, VCU’s head basketball coach, his job offers from other schools, what makes Shaka and the Rams succeed, and why they didn’t make it to the sweet 16 this year (poor 3-point shooting!).
3. Show an interest, be inquisitive. Mason asked me about my job, my family, my 50th birthday plans, my travels, my blog, and my running. Braxton asked me about golf, Singapore, why I was in Hanover. And, they also offered an opinion on my answers, and occasionally argued with the answers, albeit respectfully. I could tell they were thinking and forming opinions and points of view. Braxton listened to my story then validated my opinion by telling a similar one about one of his friends who has faced a similar situation in sports.
4. Have a sense of humor. I laughed all evening: B talking about his golf game, Mason making fun of her dad’s hair (or lack thereof), Braxton and Mason joking with each other. Laughter triggers positive memories. It signals that I want to spend more time with these people.
5. Be empathetic. I told a story of my son’s quitting a sport he loved in high school because of a terrible, demeaning coach. Mason was courageous enough to say to me, “I feel really badly that happened to your son.” Wow, I’m never that empathetic – I gloss over uncomfortable situations (of course, I am a guy). Her acknowledgement created a bond and an impression of how deep feeling she is and how well she relates.
I guess most of these are intuitive, but bringing them altogether takes talent and practice. But more than that, it takes a willingness to Be yourself. I feel I really got to know Mason and Braxton during my two-hour visit. They were comfortable in their own skin and at ease with the situation. They weren’t trying to be the perfect kids or something their parents want them to be. They were just trying to be themselves, and it worked.Thanks Mason. Thanks Braxton.