Networking in business has spawned books, articles, podcasts and videos. You name it, there’s content out there for a business owner looking to rock their networking.
The best advice I’ve been given is to simply be curious. Go in, look to have one or two conversations and just ask questions. Then listen.
But what happens when traditional questions used in networking create a larger chasm between attendees?
With so many generations connecting today, what types of questions are appropriate for building better networking relationships?
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I joined a wonderful networking group when I first started my business. This group was a space to grow our confidence as business owners, while practising standing up and speaking. It was focused on business networking.
Rarely, if ever, did anyone inquire about children or home life. In particular, no one asked me if I, then a late-20-something, had or wanted any kids. This was one of the things I liked most about this group.
As with many networking circles, this one came to a close and relationships turned into “likes” and the odd “congrats” on LinkedIn.
Seven years later, I found myself in an online networking event breakout room with one of the gentlemen from this previous group.
Not 30 seconds into our reconnection, “Any kids yet?” fell out of his mouth.
I was taken aback. Not because of the question itself, but because the question is not a question for business networking.
Other than the fact that we were there to discuss business – business people begin to bond through business – this question has the power to break someone’s heart. It’s a very personal question filled with emotions that link to one’s belief in themselves as a human.
Between the time I last had a conversation with this individual, I’ve witnessed friends and colleagues go through miscarriages, adoption challenges, stillbirths, toddler deaths and heartache upon heartache.
When this question is asked without the proper relationship boundaries in place, rapport is broken. Rebuilding the repair may not be possible. It may not be a question that holds any ill-intent but the impact can destroy someone.
Building person-to-person relationships will always be the best way to develop business connections beyond surface-level conversations. Yet it must be done in a way where potentially sensitive topics (e.g. kids, marriage/divorce, illness, etc.) don’t cause harm.
What could be asked instead that has the same intent – to build connection – without unintentionally harming the relationship?
What has your journey been these past few years?
This encourages the individual to share their story in a manner they’re comfortable with. If they mention children, chances are it’s a safer topic to broach, but not always.
What’s your favourite thing about your business?
We’re at these events because we’re in business. We should be focusing on why we love it.
Engage people in business conversations. Get them to share how they’re impacting their community and their clients. A world of connection and relationship building happens when you learn why someone loves doing business.
How have these past few months made you think differently about business?
This year has clearly been a time when business people must think differently. The solutions, markets crossing, connection opportunities and community influence have been astounding. Get curious about how others are using this time to be creative. You may end up seeing new creative ideas to use in your business.
If a minefield question does happen, use it as an opportunity to connect with the individual, offline, for a deeper conversation. Explain why the question caused harm and be open to an offline conversation to talk further. This is what I did.
The individual agreed. We connected on a much more human level because the intent was clear – he wanted to bond, not make me feel less than. It was an opportunity to connect rather than shut down and we both took it. Our business relationship and values deepened.
Networking is about building real connections. It’s simply a matter of understanding how to do so without inadvertently triggering someone’s defences. Think of the impact a question may have. And connect from there.
What typical networking question do you think should be retired from networking events? Share your insights and questions with Lindsay. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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