I’ve spent the better part of a decade building one of the most respected private communities in the world. I wish I could say I was always good at connecting with people, but nothing could be further from the truth. I was awkward, unpopular, and very geeky (I still am). As a human behavior scientist, when faced with a problem, I turn to research. What I discovered led to the creation of The Influencers, a private community with a membership ranging from Nobel Laureates, Olympians, renowned scientists, famous musicians, award-winning actors to members of royalty.
Here are four lessons that can quickly take anyone from being a novice networker to having a community of exceptional people that they call friends and colleagues.
1. Don’t network. Build a community.
Networking is an antiquated concept. It brings up images of people in suits at conferences handing out business cards and searching for clients. Networking puts you at the center with individuals connected to you. This may seem ideal, but it is actually a very weak position to be in.
The strength of a network is judged by the connections between the people. The more connections, the stronger the network. You will notice, when there is a significant number of people connected to each other, we call that a community.
Research from Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found that people have a dramatic impact on one another far more than we previously thought. Not only do we affect one another on an individual level but at the community level. Characteristics as diverse as weight-gain or -loss, smoking habits, divorce and voting patterns can be felt up to four degrees away. That means that your friends, friends, friends, friends have an impact on you and vice versa.
It also means that if you meet someone extraordinary, and you want them to have a positive impact on you, it is important to connect them to other people in your community. In this way, they will positively impact your friends and thereby have a greater impact on you.
2. Always have something to invite people to.
Ideally, this would be your own event, but if that’s not an option, consistently invite people to come along with you. If you meet a lot of people, you likely don’t have the time to maintain the relationships one-on-one to the degree that you’d want to. But, if you’re hosting an event, you can connect and maintain relationships with many people, while also always having an excuse to invite them to something beyond doing business.
3. Be willing to make a fool of yourself.
It takes time to become masterful at presenting yourself, what you do and your projects.
In the early stages of my career, I would embarrass myself constantly. I didn’t understand how to communicate effectively to different people or how to express my ideas in a way that people understood. Over time, I would try different descriptions, gradually improving. But I remember vividly, on many occasions, I would say something stupid and embarrass myself. Unfortunately, that is the price of learning. No one gets it right every time.
It is important to keep in mind that there are a lot of people in the world. Even if you embarrass yourself in front of a few, there are countless others that will see you in a positive light later when you have learned to express yourself better. It is critical that you continuously iterate your approach and accept the fact that you are human and that, at some point, you are going to embarrass yourself.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors.
When people do favors for you, it causes them to like you more. This is known as the Ben Franklin effect. As described in his autobiography, Franklin was able to win over a political adversary by asking to borrow a rare book from the man. Soon after, their tense relationship turned into a friendship that lasted until the man passed away.
It turns out that if people invest effort and time into you, they will like you more. Start with small favors and work your way up. Note that reciprocity works. Once they have done a favor for you, you’ll be more likely to do a favor for them. This is a very healthy exchange and will only serve to support you, your relationships, and your community.