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Networking shouldn't be awkward

Utilize connectional intelligence to step up your networking game

By Henri Baskins

What comes to mind when someone says, “You should be networking”? The term might conjure up images of awkward or intimidating events where you swap business cards with other professionals, only to make connections that go nowhere. But networking doesn’t have to be like this – in fact, it shouldn’t.

The heart of truly effective networking lies in building and cultivating relationships with other professionals, whether that be in your own industry or adjacent ones. In the digital age where we have hundreds of contacts at our fingertips, developing strong relationships that go beyond the surface level is the key to standout success and innovation.

“Networking is more than exchanging business cards; it’s about building relationship capital. Networking is NOT building a sales pipeline.”  – Jared Clary.

“When you build relationship capital, you’re establishing relationships to help exchange creative ideas, gaining access to resources and creating visibility for your business or organization,” said Jared Clary,  marketing strategist for Splash Omnimedia.

Author and CEO Erica Dhawan coined the term “connectional intelligence” to describe harnessing your network and relationships to create and drive greater value for your career or business. Utilizing connectional intelligence shifts the focus from the quantity of your connections to the quality of your connections. It’s not always just about who you know; in many ways, how you interact with your network can be just as important.

Connectional intelligence highlights the idea that breakthrough results are not achieved in solitude, but rather through a shared vision with others. Instead of signing up for a different networking event every week, consider ways to strengthen relationships you already have to help you and your business thrive.

Bring a value exchange

Identifying similarities and differences between you and a professional contact may come naturally, but figuring out how those traits can be used to benefit you both may be more difficult. Strong professional relationships shouldn’t feel transactional. But sharing what you both bring to the table can be a great way to understand how you can help each other in areas where you may fall short on your own. Want to bolster your relationship with the founder of that great startup? Share with her your personal or professional contacts who could invest in her idea or provide mentorship. Trying to recruit a new member for your team? Give him advice on how you moved up the workplace ladder.

Focus on shared experiences

Reaching out only when you need something isn’t exactly the best strategy for fostering a meaningful professional relationship. If you’re in the same industry, shoot a colleague an article once in a while about an exciting new development in the field. Informal initiatives to connect through something you have in common may prompt a spark of inspiration on how to drive growth for yourself or your business.

Diversify your connections

Don’t write off pursuing a relationship with professionals in fields that have no clear connection to your career path. If you’re hitting a wall trying to resolve a workplace issue, consider crowdsourcing ideas from your contacts across all industries. A fresh set of eyes with a different approach and background knowledge may bring a valuable new perspective to help solve a complex challenge or even streamline operations for your business.

Henri Baskins is the executive vice president of the Columbia Chamber. Her passion for business and strategic planning guides her role at the chamber, where she provides managerial and public policy direction.