You met Shauna at a recent networking event and talked about your latest project. She asked a lot of great questions that you answered enthusiastically.
You exchanged contact information but you never heard back from Shauna.
Shauna felt that you didn't show enough interest in her. Your conversation was one-sided — she asked all the questions, and you did all the talking. She decided to look for other people to connect with.
Does this experience feel like deja vu? If so, you need to change the way you network.
What can you do next time?
Be curious! Curiosity can help you build more meaningful connections with people in your professional network. Learn more about others and they'll want to learn more about you!
Curiosity Means Reciprocity
Think about your friends. If they tell you about their new job, do you want to know more? If you tell them about your vacation plans, do you expect them to listen?
You want reciprocal friendships — where everyone is equally interested in helping each other.
It's the same for professional relationships. If one person does all the talking, it's not a partnership.
When you meet a new contact, show genuine curiosity and interest in their professional life to encourage a reciprocal relationship.
Break The Ice
Ask a simple question to learn more about the person you just met:
"What brings you here?"
"Tell me about yourself."
This will encourage them to open up to you without putting them on the spot.
Remember, both of you want to make the right connections, so take advantage of any shared interests or common experiences between you.
Here's some advice from Self-Made Millennial on how to best break the ice:
You meet someone at a networking event. What's the best way to break the ice?
React & Respond
Use two techniques to keep the conversation going:
back-channel: respond with short phrases during pauses in conversation to show that you're actively listening to the person.
Do it enough to show you're interested in the conversation. Do it too often and you might distract or interrupt the other person. Sometimes, a head nod is enough.
follow-up: ask open-ended questions that encourage the speaker to offer their thoughts, experiences, and opinions.
"I'd like to know more about that."
"How did you get involved?"
"What's that like?"
Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no". Make sure your follow-up questions get meaningful answers.
Here's a conversation demonstrating both techniques between Shauna & Janine, who met later at the event:
Janine: We have a lot of projects on the go at the office.
Shauna: Right. What kind of projects?
Janine: I'm designing an onboarding program for new clients.
Shauna: Interesting. How did you get involved?
Janine: My director though I'd be good at it since I have some training experience.
Shauna: That's cool! How's it going?
Janine: Let me show you what I have so far.
Janine can see that Shauna is interested in her work, so she's ready to tell Janine more about it.
Offer Advice & Perspectives
Find opportunities to help the other person. Let's see how Henry, another networker, does that for Shauna:
Shauna: I find it really hard to build rapport with new clients.
Henry: You know, at my company, I'm the first point of contact for new customers. I can show you some materials that would help you with that.
Shauna: Really? I'd love that!
Offer Shauna something that adds value to her professional life. When your first conversation comes to an end, she'll be more willing to build a relationship with you in the future.
What will add value to Shauna's professional life?
Check In & Follow Up
Check in with your new contact by email or direct message shortly after your first conversation.
how much you enjoyed speaking to them when you met
what you appreciated about the conversation
if they found your advice & suggestions helpful
what you can help them with
It's also a good chance to see if they're interested in you! Ask them for their advice on your own project. It doesn't have to be a huge ask.
Here's what Sara, who exchanged contacts with Shauna, wrote to her the day after the event:
It was great to meet you at the event last night. I really enjoyed learning about your project!
How's it going this week? Did you find my suggestions helpful? Let me know if there's anything more I can do.
I'm also wondering if you could help me with a quick question about my own project, since you have some expertise in the field. Do you have a minute this week to talk again? I'd really appreciate it!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Reach out with a thoughtful, action-oriented message to keep the other person interested in continuing the relationship.
Professional relationships built on mutual curiosity can help you strengthen the professional relationships you make.
The key is to commit to the relationships long-term. You never know where you'll lead each other!