Some people have hundreds if not thousands of friends/connections/followers in their social network. The funny thing is, according to Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford, there’s a natural group size that marks the limit of those with whom we can have a real relationship involving trust and obligation. Due to limits in our brain, a natural group size for humans is about 150. This “Dunbar Number” turns out to be surprisingly common in human social organizations: historic English villages, church parishes, military units, etc.
Like the social networks of other primates, ours are naturally structured into a series of layers contained within each other: 5 “intimates”, 15 “best friends”, 50 “good friends”, 150 “friends” and 500 “acquaintances” all among 1500 “people we recognize”. More than 60% of our social time is devoted to our five closest friends with decreasing amounts given to the outer layers of our network. But the outer reaches of our social networks still play a very important role in our lives. Sociologist Mark Granovetter at Stanford University argues that these weak, widespread connections are often how we learn about jobs and other economic or social opportunities. With this in mind, let me share some valuable networking tips from a highly skilled networker who’s a good friend of mine (at least in the top 50!).
Networking isn’t about promoting yourself. It’s about being genuinely interested in others. So start your interactions by asking about the other person. Odds are, they’ll return the favour.
When you meet someone, look into their eyes and see their network. Make it your job to try to connect the people you meet with people in your network. Ask yourself how you can help them and help the people in your network through introductions. As you create these connections, your value to your new acquaintance will be established and your value to you network will be enhanced.
Take notes on everyone you meet and file them away in a contact management system. Think how impressed and touched your new acquaintance will be when, a year from now, you remember where you met and a few bits of information about your conversation.
If you make a commitment during a conversation, be sure to follow through. Send the name of that book you mentioned. Make the introduction you promised. It cements the connection and it is just good manners.
The whole point of a network is to use it. Exercising your network is like strengthening the connections between the neurons of an extended brain. Reach out when you need help. Gather opinions or perspectives. Share information. Put reminders into your calendar that ensure you stay in touch with your contacts. Sort them into layers and schedule which ones you will contact weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.
Take heart in the knowledge that many successful networkers are introverts. Networking is a learned skill. When faced with a room full of people, recognize that there are interesting people in that room who will be interested in you. Have fun trying to find them! After you’re done, reflect on your successes and reconfirm your positive experience. But remember that networking isn’t just about social events. Every interaction with another person is a networking opportunity. That’s what living a networking life really means.
As Professor Dunbar might say, we’re all just primates trying to make connections in our own ways. Monkeys and apes create and nurture social relationships by grooming each other. So rather than dread entering that room full of people, grab a cocktail and enjoy the human interaction. You have to admit it’s a lot better than facing a long evening of picking lice off strangers. Yuck!