By Liz Reyer Star Tribune (Minneapolis).
Question: I think I should start doing more networking and wonder how to go about it. I've been in the workforce quite a long time so I have a lot of lapsed connections.
Answer: Look for enjoyment in reaching out to people; let the benefits follow.
THE INNER GAME
"Should" is an interesting concept. What do you think about networking if you remove that sense of obligation? Do you feel called to reconnect for some reason? Or perhaps there is some kind of fear or regret that is motivating this. It's important to understand the reasons that you want to take this on, so set aside some time for reflection.
Take some breaths, and let your mind settle down. As you focus inward, notice how you feel when you're relaxed. Now think about another "should" task in your life and notice if it changes how you feel, either physically or emotionally. Switch back to a neutral state of mind, and then think about something you want to do. What does positive anticipation feel like? Now, the test, when you think about networking, what types of physical or emotional responses emerge?
If you have a positive reaction, you're in good shape; you'll just need to think through the tactical plan to make it happen. If networking sounds like a hard thing to do, you'll be more successful if you set it up to play to your strengths and preferences.
You also need to be clear about the outcomes you seek. For example, are you expecting to be on the job market, or do you just feel disconnected?
THE OUTER GAME
How do you like to interact? Are you a one-on-one type or do you thrive in groups? Set up your strategy to be as appealing as possible; there is no right way to proceed.
Start looking for people; if you're not using LinkedIn, it's time to start. Again, go with what draws you, thinking about people you're interested in and connected well with. You can keep the contact simple: "I've been thinking about you and thought I'd reach out to say hello" is plenty. Share a little about what you're doing and express interest in hearing about him or her. A subject line of "reconnecting" works just fine.
Use these connections to broaden your network. Your connection may know someone who could help you with a question or who has information you're looking for. Once the relationship is re-established, you can seek this kind of help.
Pay it forward. If you see information that will help someone, send it. If someone asks for an informational interview, give them some time. This type of selfless help will come back to benefit you (and you'll feel good doing it).
Keep track of your progress. Check in each month with how many more people you've connected with and also pay attention to how you feel about it. If you can do more, go for it; if you feel yourself burning out, recalibrate.
THE LAST WORD
Turn the "should" of networking into the "get to do" of establishing connections. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.