We all know networking is important, but we don’t always prioritize it. Yet we should! The strongest personal brands have rich and diverse networks. I reached out to Michael Melcher, the author of the upcoming book Your Invisible Network: How to Create, Maintain, and Leverage the Relationships That Will Transform Your Career to inspire us to give networking the attention it deserves.
William Arruda: There are lots of books on networking and relationship building. Why did you write this one, and what makes it different?
Michael Melcher: People “kind of“ know the value of relationships. But they get stuck because relationship building has a lot of nuance and can be quite complex. How do you reach out to someone you haven’t kept up with? When you ask, should you be direct or indirect? What if reciprocity seems impossible, such as when the other person is more senior or more powerful than you? How exactly are you supposed to find these mythical “sponsors” who can help you leapfrog ahead? I wanted to provide a coherent framework and set of tools that can help people move forward.
Second, a lot of networking books seem to be written by extremely extroverted, upbeat people whose message is, “Be like me.” But you’re not going to become another person. I wanted to provide a guide for being effective without thinking you have to change your personality first.
Third, for people who come to their careers as outsiders or first generation, relationships are the primary way to leapfrog ahead. Very few people realize that social capital is something you can build even if you come from very limited (or zero) financial capital. I wanted to lay out exactly how this works.
Arruda: How is relationship building different in the new world of hybrid work?
Melcher: A basic point of my book is how you move from “connections” to meaningful relationships with reciprocity and mutual understanding. In hybrid and distributed work environments, you just aren’t going to bump into people in the hallways or easily stop by their offices. The planning required for virtual meetings squeezes out a lot of random but extremely important interactions.
Therefore, when you are virtual, you need to identify ways to connect more broadly and deeply, since it won’t happen by itself. And if you are in the “live” contingent, you need to find ways to connect with colleagues who might seem “invisible” to you but who really aren’t.
Arruda: What’s the biggest mistake people make when building and nurturing relationships, and how can we avoid it?
Melcher: The biggest mistake people make is that they over-qualify. They try to predict whether meeting any given person will be valuable, and they try to predict whether any given conversation will be useful. But actually, you can’t predict any of this. Some of your most valuable relationships will be unforeseen, and many people who you think will be useful won’t be. Therefore, you need a balance between being strategic and being open to serendipity, and between having an agenda in conversations and being curious about where the conversation will actually end up.
Arruda: Although we all have the best intentions for staying connected to the people we meet, it’s challenging. What’s your advice for keeping relationships strong?
Melcher: Ping power. A ping is a message you send that doesn’t require a response. “Hey, I saw this article and thought you might like it.” “I passed our favorite coffee spot yesterday and thought of you.” “I hope you’re doing well. Here’s a new adorable pic of my twins.” When you send a ping, you are reminding the person you’re alive, reminding them that they like you, and sometimes sending along useful information—without giving them the stress of an expected response. Everyone has a big pile of to-do’s they haven’t done, and people love receiving positive messages that don’t require them to do anything.
Arruda: You say there are seven types of relationships we need to nurture to achieve our career and leadership potential. What are they?
Melcher: Weak ties. Bosses and senior stakeholders. Colleagues. Clients. Mentors/Sponsors. Beneficiaries. Friends.
Arruda: Most of those are self-explanatory, but can you tell us more about weak ties and beneficiaries?
Melcher: Weak ties are people you don’t know well, or who you once knew and with whom you’ve been out of touch. There is a ton of research about how much weak ties can benefit you. Beneficiaries are people you are helping, usually without being asked. One of the points in my book is that you can be a benefactor regardless of age or standing—you already know things that are useful to others, and when you share information, connections and resources, you empower yourself and create a good balance between asking and giving.
William Arruda is a keynote speaker, co-founder of CareerBlast.TV and co-creator of the Personal Brand Power Audit – a complimentary quiz that helps you measure the strength of personal brand.
Source: How To Use Networking To Transform Your Career: A Conversation With Michael Melcher
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