Relationship-building can be a determining factor in whether a career takes off or stagnates. Networking has gained so much traction as a buzzword in recent years because to know the right people is to access the right jobs, companies, and circles.
But building a network on its own isn’t enough. You have to work to keep your network connected to you and happy with you. Otherwise, the connections you make are just a number on your LinkedIn account.
What are the right strategies to leverage your network? How do you maintain positive, influential relationships in your professional life?
Here are seven ways to make better connections, build relationships, and avoid missing out on valuable opportunities.
Read more: How to Network Without Feeling Gross
1. Be genuine and authentic
Because networking can be, well, schmoozy, stand out by staying committed to authenticity. For starters, think about people who you truly admire and want to work with, rather than trying to make connections with anyone adjacent to your industry.
As professional coach and entrepreneur Julia Sky says, “Influential people typically know that they are influential, and the more empathic, relational, and sophisticated a person is, the more they’ll be able to sense another person’s sincerity and intentions in relationships.”
She says you should simply be yourself. “There’s nothing more attractive than that. We are all unique individuals with a different story to tell.”
Never forget that your genuine, authentic self and story will be interesting to other people, too.
2. Offer something valuable
When you’re reaching out to your network, don’t just focus on what you can get from someone. Think about what you can offer them as well. What do they need, and how can you provide something of value in return? Your network relationships should be two-way streets.
As Sky suggests, “All business owners need customers and clients, so if you can make an introduction or send them qualified referrals, they will be truly grateful and will never forget you. They will also be looking for ways, either consciously or subconsciously, to return the favor.”
This is a great way to stay top-of-mind to your network connections while showing them your value.
But, be mindful that you don’t give too much. As with any friendship or romantic relationship, make sure that what you are giving is being returned and that it is actually what you want to be doing.
3. Let go of perfectionism
Try to avoid the mindset that you have to pretend to be more experienced than you are when building influential relationships. It’s perfectly acceptable to be honest about your place in your professional journey, wherever that may be.
Chicago-based creative coach Juliet Barrett says that to avoid making relationships feel transactional, “you have to let go of the idea of perfection as the standard for connection. Allow yourself to be seen in-process. You don’t need to be an expert in your industry to be a valuable connection.”
Whatever experiences and interests you bring to the table will be useful to someone in your network. That’s the point of a network, after all—to learn from others with varying perspectives.
Barrett suggests getting in the habit of naming your strengths and focusing on what you have to offer, even if you’re not the perfect picture of where you’d like to be.
4. Practice gratitude
Another suggestion from Barrett is to “lead with gratitude, not flattery.”
When talking with a connection, name the specific value points they have brought you, and show how much you’re thankful for that.
She suggests that you “get in the habit of iterating one or two specific details from each conversation that helped you reach the next step in your journey; whether that was your next job, a new project, a new client, or even a tip that helped you accomplish your goals in a more efficient way.”
Showing gratitude, and being specific about what you gained, will set up the relationship to be one based on respect and reciprocity. It also makes it easier for your connections to like you and want to work with you again—everyone appreciates being appreciated.
Read more: I Learned How to Be Happy at Work
5. Become a better listener
It can turn off a connection when you’re clearly only after something for yourself. Focus instead on what they’re telling you and why it matters. One way to do this is to be a proactive listener.
Avoid talking when they are speaking and let them know you’re listening by nodding or repeating back what they said when they’re finished.
People respond positively when they feel they’re being heard, instead of perceiving that someone is just waiting for their turn to talk. Show interest in others and affirm what they have to say, and you will build better relationships.
Read more: How to Listen Effectively (& Why You Should)
6. Stay in touch
Making a connection and then letting it fizzle is one way to miss out on networking opportunities. Instead of always focusing on reaching new people, be diligent about staying in touch with the connections you’ve made.
Send thank-you notes after meetings, for example, and include suggestions on how you could get together in the future. When you come across an article you think would be enjoyable to one of your connections, forward it in an email and ask for an update on how they’re doing. If you know someone got a promotion or reached a milestone, congratulate them.
These simple yet meaningful actions will show your professional connections that you value the relationship and care about their success.
7. Work on becoming a leader
Your eventual goal should be to become that person that someone looks up to and wants to network with. And, you may already be that person and are poised to help others in your industry more than you imagined.
You can turn into that leader that other people will admire. Be proactive now by taking the steps that other people have taken to get where they are. Ask industry leaders their biggest tips for people in your position.
Practice by doing, never assuming that opportunities will just fall into your lap. And don’t forget to put your own spin on what others have done before you.
About our sources
Juliet Barrett (she/her) is a creative coach based out of Chicago, Illinois, working to empower creatives and to provide accessible tools for holistic personal/professional development. Her coaching focuses on actionable steps that reach big picture goals through self-advocacy. She loves working with folks amid big life transitions, and supports them with the belief that “you already have all the tools you need to succeed!”
Julia Sky has nearly two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, professional coach and award-winning wealth advisor. Bringing forth all her gifts, wisdom & expertise, she guides others to live fully alive, express their uniqueness and own their value... through a creative blend of transformational guidance, services & experiences. With her two companies, She Flies With Her Own Wings and Rockstar Financial, she helps her clients take their lives, careers & businesses to the next level and experience the clarity and freedom that comes from aligning their finances with their deepest values, goals, interests, and desires. Julia offers an essential guide to a wealthy & wondrous life!