Growing and maintaining a personal and professional network is important for success. Although sometimes an unfair stereotype there are many people with a technical mindset that struggle in cultivating relationships. A root cause may be a task versus people orientation. A task mindset focuses on the logic and the task at hand rather than the feelings of the people involved. Often task oriented people focus and prioritize things and communicate with the intention to achieve goals related to things without consideration for the emotions and thought process of the people involved. At times technical people may focus on their own thoughts and dominate a conversation rather than listen. Let’s consider a thought experiment of a hypothetical person – he or she may develop this type of mindset if he or she gets emotional with logic relating to people. Therefore, because people are associated with emotional pain it is easier to retreat to logic, things, and tasks. That said, if the same logic skills and technical mindset are applied to understanding people and people problems then the same success observed with things and tasks can be applied to people and relationships. Therefore, I’d like to offer an argument for how a technical mindset can be applied to growing and maintaining a personal and professional network.
Before I proceed further I want to define technical mindset. To me a technical mindset would have the following components
- Logic – a orientation to procedural logic when trying to understanding the world
- Detail orientation – ability to focus on and understand intricate systems in small details but sometimes loses focus on a bigger picture
- Documentation – feeling a need to document and categorize
- Metrics – controlling outcomes through metrics related to specific key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Analysis – leans towards analyzing logic and metrics to gain insights to support planning before taking action
So how can a technical mindset be applied in a social context?
1. Create a goal
Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone can be difficult. Setting a goal can be helpful to not only track the progress of your interactions but in addition will in a sense gameify a process that initially may be uncomfortable. Set goals like meeting 5 new people at the next event and to understand three specific things about the new person that you meet. Be careful to come across genuinely interested in the people you are interacting with but setting a goal can get the wheels turning to develop a process to develop a professional network. After achieving a goal it will help you build confidence to go out to the next event to expand your network further.
2. Write canned openers beforehand
The only way to get good at something is through trial and error to develop the right habits. Developing those habits takes time and at first interactions can seem forced and awkward. Having a go to one liner or set of canned questions can make you more comfortable when approaching a person or group of people. It can be helpful to practice a canned opener at home but it is the repetition that will ultimately smooth out your introductory skills. While the simplest opener is just to smile and say hello, there are all sorts of options to carry a conversation like asking how someone fits into the overall structure of the organization, who they report to, if you have mutual acquaintances, or what they are working on at the moment.
3. Observe surroundings
Often times commenting on your surroundings can be a good opener to get yourself involved in a conversation. Additionally, a good way to ease your way into a conversation is just to walk up to a group and look for an opening with a topic that you have familiarity with. Abruptly interjecting in a conversation is not the right approach so be patient and listen for the right moment. In some circumstances your presence just being there will prompt others to get involved with the conversation.
4. Ask follow up questions after finishing a statement
Do you have that friend that will just keep talking and talking and eventually you lose interest. While that person may feel like he or she is actually developing relationships unfortunately they are doing the opposite. To avoid becoming this person yourself be sure to ask the person you a speaking with a questions after you finish a thought.
Mirroring is a technique where you repeat the last few words or the most important word that the person is speaking is saying. This is a technique that will not only allow you to better engage and remember what the other person is saying – it will also make the other person feel heard and make you more empathetic to their situation. All of these outcomes will improve your relationships. One of my favorite books, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, describes technique like mirroring in negotiation. However, these tactical empathy techniques as he calls them are instrumental in developing relationships which will expand your professional network.
6. Practice speaking on web cam or audio recorder
Do you stutter or stammer a lot when speaking? I know that I did. In my case my thoughts were racing faster than my ability to speak them; a pattern that was sort of irritating in conversation. Additionally, at times I wasn’t aware that I frowned a lot which didn’t make me approachable and rambled from time to time. I was able to resolve this by speaking my thoughts in the form of a journal to a camera. Each time I practiced I concentrated on articulating a complete thought continuously, smiling, and slowing down to a deliberate pace. Not only did I improve understanding and focus with others when I spoke, but I also was able to notice other little things because I was more at ease in conversations; a net effect that improved my ability to make friends and influence others.
7. Print business cards
This one is a little more old school but still effective today. Creating business cards can be a really easy way to keep in contact with someone you have just met. That said, ensure that genuine relationships are developed and you are not just going around the room handing out your business card as the card will go from your hand to theirs and subsequently in the trash. A good technique is to keep your business cards in your front shirt pocket which allows for easy access after you have a had a meaningful conversation.
8. Create an email address specifically for networking interactions
It really depends on why you are networking. If you are networking for your day job then most likely you will be using your company’s email address. However, if you are developing your professional network for a side project or trying to find a job it is important to have an email address that doesn’t make you look like a teenager. Professional email addresses general are in formats like: <FirstName>.<LastName>@<emailprovider>.com OR <FirstInitial> + <LastName>@<emailprovider>.com. While superficial, how you are perceived is important when developing relationships. Additionally, it can be a good idea to separate out your professional from your personal correspondence so you don’t get distracted.
Overall developing a professional network is not much more different than writing code. At the end of the day if you look at each interaction from a process orientation and analyze the technical details of those interactions you will be able to create techniques which will increase the size and scope of your professional relationships. So, use your technical mindset and don’t let others slot you into the developer stereotype.