You want to join the women-helping-women movement and you’re looking for opportunities to make deeper, more meaningful connections; opportunities to support each other, and to make the world a better place. However, just going to a conference, fundraiser or team meeting isn’t enough. You have to know what comes next—what to say or do to connect with other women in ways that yield real relationships and change lives (including yours) for the better.
Here are 10 tips to help you supercharge your new connections:
1. Make the mental shift from "What can I get from you?" to "What can we create together?" Simple as it sounds, this really is the first step and the key to successful connections. When we think of networking as a self-serving exercise, we really don’t want to do it. It feels bad. But when we infuse sharing and giving into the process, suddenly it feels good—and it works.
2. Go to functions alone. This will force you to meet people rather than spending the whole time chatting with friends and colleagues. At first, it’s really hard for some women to do this (probably most of us), but we are hardwired to connect. When you get over your initial anxiety, you will see how natural (and fun) it feels.
3. Sit beside a woman you don’t know. Like showing up alone (though perhaps a bit less scary), this will force you to get to know someone new. Be friendly: introduce yourself, introduce her to others, find something in common.
4. Have three or four good go-to questions in the bag. This will be a huge help in case a conversation grinds to a halt. (Awkward!) It doesn’t matter what the questions are, but you might consider thought-provokers like, "If time and money were no object, what would you be doing right now?" or, "What is one goal you’d like to accomplish before you die?" or, "What have you done lately that was fun?"
5. Practice being interested rather than interesting. The old style of networking involved a lot of selling your skills and showcasing your knowledge. Resist the urge. Instead, when you’re talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answers.
6. Probe for people’s passions. Then stick to that topic for a while. You can tell when someone is excited about a subject. Her eyes light up. Her voice gets animated. When this happens—whether it happens when she mentions snow skiing, Civil War history, or helping African women support their villages—keep the conversation going along these lines. Passion is a powerful energy source for making connections.
7. Read three relevant articles before the event. If you are at, say, a business convention, you might want to scour the trades for new trends, products, and processes. This gives you fodder for discussion. The idea isn’t to use it to show off or impress the other person, but to bolster your own confidence, which makes you comfortable enough to connect.
“The old style of networking involved a lot of selling your skills and showcasing your knowledge. Resist the urge.”
8. Gravitate toward women who are smarter than you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be the smartest, most interesting, most successful person in the group. Try not to feel threatened by other amazing women—instead, ask yourself what you can learn from them.
9. Ask, "What can I do to help you?" (Then follow through.) This may catch people off guard. They probably expect you to ask for an interview or a chance to pitch your product. When you ask a woman if you can, say, introduce her to an influential colleague or bring your therapy dog to the children’s hospital she runs, she will be delighted.
10. Avoid phoniness at all costs. Be real. Don’t hide or downplay your true nature or your beliefs to fit in or to make sure the person you’re connecting with likes you. Healthy relationships are built on transparency, and people respect this… even if you don’t agree on everything.
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of "Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life" and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women empowerment expert, O’Reilly helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website. For more information visit www.drnancyoreilly.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.