How to Network With Busy People – Part 10

This is a continuation of the “How to Network With Busy People” series. The first post in the series can be found here.

Continuing on with our tips…

Meet in person.

It’s hard to create much of a connection with someone via email. Email just isn’t expressive enough. Email is communication stripped of its emotional context.

Instant messaging is a step up from email because it’s real-time instead of asynchronous, but it’s still a very thin channel. Consequently, I virtually never use IM. It feels like trying to communicate underwater.

Text messaging is a close cousin of instant messaging and email, depending on how it’s used and how quickly people respond.

Phone calls are a big step up because now you can pick up some emotional context from tone of voice. You can build a halfway decent connection over the phone. But you’re still missing out on body language, and when it comes to creating a strong connection, that’s a pretty big deal.

The best way to communicate is face to face and belly to belly. Nothing else compares to it.

If you do a lot of networking by email and phone calls, but you never go outside and meet people face to face, you’re probably only 20% as effective as you could be – and I think that’s being generous.

Face to face communication is very efficient in terms of the bonds it creates and the value that can be exchanged. Many people can create a strong, intimate connection with someone in a matter of minutes when communicating face to face, but that may never happen via email.

Sometimes when I meet people in person, we can get an amazing connection going in just a few minutes. It’s like our souls recognize and acknowledge each other. If I tried to form these kinds of connections via email or phone, it still wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as face to face, even after years of back and forth contact.

I know a lot of networkers who love to work the phones and email. Personally I find that a huge waste of time. It may seem more efficient at first glance because you can reach more people in less time, but is it really more efficient? What about the quality of those connections? Email and phones are okay for maintaining relationships, but they’re poor choices for building relationships.

I’m not saying that you can’t build some decent connection when communicating remotely. I’m just saying that face to face communication is about a couple orders of magnitude more effective if your goal is to create an authentic connection.

I dare say that if you’ve never met me in person or talked to me one on one, you really can’t claim to know me all that well, even if you’ve read every article and listened to every podcast I’ve created. Many people who’ve met me after “knowing” me online for years have said something like, “This is weird. You’re not like I expected.” That’s because only a small slice of me can really be communicated over the Internet.

I’ve experienced this from the other side as well. At the leadership retreat I attended in July, I finally met some people in person where we’d previously communicated only by email or phone. In every case my expectations of what they’d be like in person were off. Sometimes my mental model of the person was wildly out of sync with the reality, and it took only minutes to realize that.

When you communicate remotely, much of the connection you feel is rooted in illusion. You may harbor very deep thoughts and feelings when typing an email, but only some dull text gets delivered to the other person’s inbox, not the whole mental and emotional context that spawned that text. Similarly, when you read someone’s reply, you’re adding your own mental and emotional context to it, which is going to distort the message quite a bit. Most of the connection you feel with the other person is just you connecting with different aspects of yourself.

Sometimes I meet people who seem really gregarious and vivacious online, but in person they’re so shy and quiet. Other times I’ve seen people who seem very woo woo from a distance, but in person they’re highly intelligent and grounded. My assumptions about people I’ve never met face to face are never accurate, so I do my best to keep an open mind about people I’ve only communicated with remotely.

One of the best ways to meet busy people face to face is to go to conferences, seminars, and workshops where they’ll be, especially multi-day events where you’ll have multiple opportunities to meet and talk to them. Ideally, volunteer to be a speaker at the same event if you can.

If you spend a lot of time networking through technology, spending hours at your desk, make a point of going outside to interact with people face to face. You’ll find that life becomes much more fun and fulfilling when you do this.

Earlier this week I did a live interview for an online radio show. I could have done the interview by phone like I always do, but since the studio was only 15 minutes from my house, I opted to go there and do it in person. It was so much more fun and lively than other interviews I’ve done. I could see the hosts and read their body language from a few feet away. This made it so much easier to interact with them. It made the interview flow much better. There’s just no substitute for face-to-face communication.

Meet people when their shields are down.

Timing plays an important role in meeting busy people. The worst time to try to create a connection is when the other person’s shields are up.

If you try to talk to people when they’re “on stage” or in public performance mode, you’re not really connecting with them. You’re only connecting with their public image. Some speakers are still very human and authentic in those situations, but most have a hard time being fully themselves when there’s so much energy coming at them. They shield themselves in some fashion to avoid being overwhelmed. When you talk to them, they may seem nice enough and be very charming, but you can sense that you’re not really connecting with them at a deep level.

I’ve met some interesting authors and speakers just by hanging out in the speakers lounge for a conference I was speaking at. It’s a great way to meet people and connect as friends. Speakers typically drop their shields when they walk into the speakers lounge. It’s a place for them to just relax. I often hear them sigh as they enter the room. “Ahhh… I can relax and hang out with friends now.”

Sometimes fun connections can happen when you least expect them – if you stay open to them.

For example, I first met Gregg Braden in a restaurant bathroom. We were attending a speakers’ dinner last year and just happened to go to the bathroom at the same time. Sort of an odd place to meet, but in that environment the shields are down, and we joked around a bit before returning to the dinner. When we came out, Erin was standing there waiting, wondering what was taking us so long.

During one of the bathroom breaks at the leadership retreat last month, someone walked into the men’s restroom and jokingly said something like, “Well, this is quite a sight… All these transformational leaders lined up against the wall urinating… What would the rest of the world think if they saw this?” Then we all started cracking jokes about it. I guess this was one of those had-to-be-there moments, but the point is that even very busy and successful people are still human, and it’s a lot easier to connect with their human side than it is to connect with their public persona. The best connections happen when the shields are down.

This doesn’t mean you should hang out in bathrooms trying to network with people. The point is to stay open to connecting.

Connect with laughter.

Sharing laughs is one of the best ways to create a fast connection. This can be done over the phone, but it’s much more powerful in person. Laughter is contagious. Much of the time we don’t even laugh because someone says something funny. More often we laugh for other reasons. Laughter is a vehicle for creating a sense of inclusion and connection.

Personally I love to joke around, to tease, and to have fun. My sense of humor is largely spontaneous, so only a small amount of it comes through in my writing. People who’ve never met me in person often expect me to be this very serious and intense guy. They’re often surprised at how much I joke around.

This was something that surprised me when I first became an entrepreneur. I thought the world of business was this super-serious thing. I assumed that having fun and being business-like didn’t mix. My image of business was colored by TV and movies. Unless it was a comedy, the boardroom always seemed like such a serious place.

When I started connecting with other people in a business context, fresh out of college, I was surprised at how much they joked around and had fun with each other. Even lawyers would sometimes crack jokes with each other or their clients (although generally speaking, I found lawyers to be the least fun-loving profession I worked with, perhaps because their clients don’t take kindly to joking around when they’re paying an hourly rate). It took me years to realize that this was normal and acceptable and that I could actually use my sense of humor to good advantage in business.

I’ve noticed that young entrepreneurs tend to be the most serious. They’re so business-like and don’t give themselves permission to express their natural personalities. Experienced entrepreneurs tend to be more relaxed and sociable; they know how to have fun and enjoy themselves, even in serious business contexts where a lot of money could be changing hands. Generally the people who can’t express their natural selves end up quitting. When you can’t lighten up and have fun, the result is that you burn out.

Networking should be fun. You won’t enjoy it much if you’re super serious all the time. You will enjoy it if you learn to express your natural personality. The way you behave among family and friends should ideally be the same way you behave around business colleagues. Otherwise you’re splintering your personality and living incongruently.

To be continued…