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One of my lawyers is fired up about networking. He’s got himself in motion. He’s doing lunch after lunch.
After each lunch, he messages me that he did another one. I congratulate him.
Then I ask him what he’s going to do for the other person. How is he going to help him or her?
After three lunches, a pattern is already emerging.
“I can be his friend. I can refer to him. I can send him a gift to celebrate his new ______________ (fill in the blank: baby, house, office).”
I’m getting the exact same answer to my question each time. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
That’s not good enough.
Effective Networking Requires a Connection
Here’s the deal. You should leave lunch with something nice you can do for your new friend. It doesn’t have to be “show up and paint his house” big. But it should be something. And it should be customized to meet the needs of your lunch date.
In fact, the perfect way to follow up is to do something small that is exactly targeted to meet the needs of your lunch date.
For example, I left dinner last night and immediately looked up a link to something we discussed while eating. It’s a link to a software product closely related to what my dinner companion is doing, but it’s something he hadn’t heard of before and will find useful. I texted him the link.
What he took from my message was that I had been listening, that I cared enough to remember what he needed, and that I was interested enough to take action.
My networking lawyer is dropping the ball. He isn’t listening hard enough during lunch. He’s not coming up with ways to be useful to his networking partner. He’s not getting below the surface. The “friend, referrals, gift” response isn’t sufficient.
How to Dig Deeper
Networking is about paying it forward. It’s about looking for ways to help. It’s about building trust and connection.
Yes, networking is inevitably reciprocal, but you’ve got to start the ball rolling. The more you make it about giving, the more it’ll prove productive. Don’t worry about what you’re going to get. Stay focused on what you’re going to give.
Figuring out how you might be useful isn’t always easy. It requires peeling the onion a bit. It requires some digging. It requires listening harder.
The ways in which we need help aren’t usually the first things we mention. They often involve exhibiting some vulnerability. Letting it be known that we need help means exposing some aspect of our life or personality that isn’t working as well as we’d like.
Asking for help isn’t something most of us do easily. It’s especially not something we do at a first meeting with someone new.
If, however, you’re asking the kinds of questions I suggest in my course, you’re probing deeper.
Hopefully, you’re also starting the onion-peeling process by being forthcoming about your own challenges. Someone has to start the ball rolling, and it’s probably going to have to be you.
For example, talking about my anxiety before a big trial or a big speech usually meets with some expression of anxiety about something similar from my lunch companion. I don’t sound overly crazy when I mention the stress I’m feeling. It’s not like I just referenced my recent stint in rehab or anything. It’s a minor thing. But it opens the emotional doors.
While you’re at lunch, assign a small part of your brain to answering the question “What can I do for this person?” Keep that part of your brain scanning for ideas.
When you leave the meeting, you’ll have an answer. Put the answer in your task management system and make it happen. You’ll build trust. You’ll take the relationship to the next level, and you’ll begin the follow-up process. Look hard for an opportunity to help. It’s sitting right there in front of you.