In today’s fast-paced, digital world, it gets easy in the hustle and bustle to overlook the human aspect of a business relationship. “The foundation for successful networking and relationship building is making a good connection—that initial contact with someone rooted in mutual interest or experience that breaks down the wall that exists between us,” said Randy Haim, managing partner of Atlanta-based Bell Oaks Executive Search. “These connections should emanate from your genuine desire to learn about the other person and determine what you have in common.”Â

In his whitepaper “Connecting… The Forgotten Art of Social Interaction,” Haim outlines 10 connection-building skills to develop before your next big networking opportunity. Here are a few:Â

  • Ask questions – This may be one of the oldest pieces of networking advice, but it holds true: you are more interesting when you ask questions. People love to talk about themselves, particularly to someone they can tell is listening with genuine interest. As you get them talking, listen actively, looking for common ground.
  • Get personal – We’re often trained to avoid personal information in business conversation. However, conversations are human interactions, and those personal components – faith, family, values, perspective – are what make us who we are. Don’t shy away from sharing your values and talking with someone about theirs. However, getting to this personal level is uncomfortable for some, so gauge the reaction you receive and proceed accordingly. When done well and with a warm reception, this is a powerful way to an authentic, deep dialogue that can lead to a strong relationship.
  • Use humor – Laughter is one of the easiest icebreakers. Jokes veer toward awkwardness, but when you use humor by making light of a situation or poking fun at yourself, it can build an instant – and positive – bond.
  • Connect through content – Don’t be afraid to take the next step in showing someone you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say by putting that interest into action. If your contact mentions struggling with a professional development challenge and you’ve recently read something on the subject, go ahead and send them an email with the link to the article or a review of the book. This creates a point of discussion and follow up for future interactions.

As you work to better connect with new contacts at a personal, human level, you’ll be surprised at how naturally and easily networking becomes. Focusing on individuals as people, not stepping stones to success, forges a deeper bond that may sustain beyond the business at hand.

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