How to move beyond “surface” networking and make real connections.

By Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD (Author, Leading Women)

In today’s marketplace, the ability to collaborate is quickly becoming a must-have skill. But successful collaboration involves much more than engaging in the mile-wide-inch-deep world of social medial, insincere business card exchanges and traditional “what can you do for me” networking.

Instead, you must actively seek out opportunities to make deeper, more meaningful and mutually-beneficial connections – both professional and otherwise.

Before you attend the next conference, fundraiser or team meeting, make sure you know how to connect with others in ways that yield real relationships and change lives (including yours) for the better.

Here are 10 tips to help you supercharge your new connections:

1. Shift Your Mindset

Make the mental shift from “What can I get from you?” to “What can we create together?” Simple as it sounds, this really is the first step and the key to successful connections.

When we think of networking as a self-serving exercise, we really don’t want to do it. It feels bad. But when we infuse sharing and giving into the process, suddenly it feels good. And it works.

2. Go it Alone

Going to functions alone will force you to meet people rather than spending the whole time chatting with friends and colleagues. At first, it’s really hard for some people to do this (probably most of us), but we humans are hardwired to connect. (Remember, no man – or woman – is an island.)

When you get over your initial anxiety, you will see how natural (and fun) it feels.

3. Sit Next to a Stranger

Just like showing up alone (though perhaps a bit less scary), this will force you to get to know someone new. Be friendly: Introduce yourself, introduce your neighbor to others and find something in common.

4. Have Questions Ready

Have three or four good “go-to” questions in the bag. This will be a huge help in case a conversation grinds to a halt. (Awkward!)

It doesn’t matter what the questions are, but you might consider thought-provokers like “If time and money were no object, what would you be doing right now?” “What is the best part of your job?” “What is the hardest part of your job?” “What is one goal you’d like to accomplish before you die?” or “What have you done lately that was fun?”

5. Listen

Practice being interested rather than interesting. The old style of networking involved a lot of “selling” your skills and showcasing your knowledge.

Resist the urge. Instead, when you’re talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answers.

6. Probe for Passions

Probe for people’s passions, then stick to that topic for a while. You can tell when someone is excited about a subject. His eyes light up. Her voice gets animated.

When this happens – whether it happens when he mentions snow skiing, travel, a new business idea or work with unemployed veterans – keep the conversation going along these lines. Passion is a powerful energy source for making connections.

7. Study Up

Read three relevant articles before the event. If you are at, say, a business convention, you might want to scour the trades for new trends, products, and processes. This gives you fodder for discussion.

The idea isn’t to use it to “show off” or impress the other person but to bolster your own confidence, which makes you comfortable enough to connect.

8. Find the Smartest People in the Room

Gravitate toward people who are smarter than you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be the smartest, most interesting, most successful person in the group. Try not to feel threatened by other amazing individuals – instead, ask yourself what you can learn from them.

9. Be a Helper

Ask, “What can I do to help you?” (Then follow through.)

This may catch people off guard. They probably expect you to ask for an interview or a chance to pitch your product. When you ask a woman if you can, say, introduce her to an influential colleague or bring your therapy dog to the children’s hospital she runs, she will be delighted.

10. Be Real

Avoid phoniness at all costs. Be real.

Don’t hide or downplay your true nature or your beliefs to fit in or to make sure the person you’re connecting with likes you. Healthy relationships are built on transparency and respect… even if you don’t agree on everything.

Do you have a top tip for meeting new people at networking events?

Photo credit: Rafael Croonen via Shutterstock.