Some people seem to be just born with the gift of the gab. They instinctively know how to work a room, become best buds with anyone in minutes, or are naturally extroverted. And, as today’s guru, David Burkus, so poignantly points out in this TEDxUniversity of Nevada video, “Don’t you just hate them?”
Trust us, you’re not alone if you’re not a fan of networking events… or feel disheartened about your inner introvert. Even Burkus, who is a best-selling author and one of the world’s leading business thinkers, admits to finding the prospect of traditional networking pretty horrifying.
But, as Burkus also notes, research tells us again and again that “networking and professional connections are hugely important to our careers and our lives.” So how do we align our dislike of networking with fulfilling the need to meet new people and enrich businesses?
Have you ever played the game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?
Thankfully, the answer is right at your fingertips: you already have a social network among your friends… and their friends… and so on.
“A network is not something you have, it’s not about meeting strangers,” Burke explains. “In fact, the best definition is probably that it’s about understanding the network that’s already around you and acting accordingly.”
Tap into your vast network of dormant ties
These people are what sociologists dub dormant or weak ties: people you were once good friends with but, due to circumstances, health, career changes, and geography, you’re no longer as close as you once were. However, since these people aren’t strangers, you can feel more comfortable reaching out to them.
And if you really are looking to meet someone in your industry, research shows that “almost the entire world really is connected by five or six introductions,” explains Burke. “And the majority of your professional world is probably connected by one or two.”
What about when you need to meet a random stranger?
Need to chat with someone in an industry, region, or sector you’re unfamiliar with? Ask your friends for referrals. You’ll almost always be surprised by who they dig up for you.
And if you ever stumble into a situation where you’re chatting with complete strangers, Burke encourages, try this tactic. Ditch the work talk. Ask about their passions and hobbies. Find some common ground related to interests, not industry.
Research tells us that this is a better way to make deep connections and build new, long-lasting relationships faster. “It’s not really a work-friends versus real-friends thing; we’re all just friends, so find a non-work reason to connect,” Burke tells us. And that’s what makes networking decidedly not awkward.
“Show me your friend of a friend, and I’ll show you your future”
One study by researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler reveals that this approach will get you more than just promotions and business opportunities. They found that not only your friends but your friend’s friends influence everything from whether or not you smoke to your propensity toward obesity.
Improving and expanding your network through friends—and their friends and their friends… you get the idea—may literally enhance your overall life.
The takeaway? A refreshing, non-scary networking strategy
And that’s the crux of it. As Burke notes: “That’s why we need this approach to networking. That’s why we need to redefine it, not as meeting total strangers at cocktail parties, but as knowing who’s a friend and who’s a friend of a friend.”
Because it’s who you already know that you should be networking with the most. And not just to make more money or found the new Facebook (sorry, Meta), but to make you a happier, healthier person.
Are you one of those lucky few who thrive among strangers at classic networking events? Or are you more excited to hear about this novel approach from David Burke? Be sure to let us know how it goes if you start implementing this strategy in marketing or business.