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Three Key Habits of the Most Effective Networkers

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Networking is critical to business success. No matter what industry you're in, networking impacts your ability to influence offers and advance in your career. But the reality is most people have a distorted view of networking. We tend, for example, to assume that extroverts and highly-charismatic individuals are uniquely suited for networking success. This fixed and limited mindset is a recipe for disaster. Networking is not an innate trait but can be learned and honed over time.

The most effective networkers tend to rely on three key strategies as part of their networking pursuits:

1. They prioritize in-person communication.

With the rapid proliferation of social media and online social networks, it's easy to prioritize virtual communications. The most effective networkers, however, recognize that there's no substitute for in-person communication. The facial expression and body language that is transmitted is crucial for establishing mutual understanding, developing trust, and building rapport.

The value of in-person communication cannot be overstated. 95% of people say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships. There's a reason that companies receive an average of $12.50 in business value for every dollar invested in business travel and that the average company would lose 17% of its profits if it eliminated business travel. Not only do in-person meetings generate 28% more ideas (13.36 vs. 10.43), they also boost idea originality by 13%.

2. They focus on quality over quantity.

There are only 40 hours in the typical workweek. We have a finite number of hours to network and develop relationships with others. The famous "Dunbar Number" states that there's a natural ceiling on the number of relationships that a person can actively maintain—approximately 150. What's more, contrary to popular belief, social media does not allow us to expand this limit.

Many people pride themselves on the quantity of their network—their number of LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends, for example. The most effective networkers emphasize quality of relationships over quantity of relationships. They prioritize building relationships with superconnectors—the people who have built powerful networks that they can strategically use to gain access to whomever they choose. Superconnectors tend to exhibit four key characteristics. They recognize that relationships are asymmetrical. They have a holistic understanding of their team's network. They understand the long game. And they exhibit high levels of EQ.

3. They leverage dormant connections.

When we look to individuals in our network for advice or as potential partners, we often look first to our strongest active connections. Effective networks embrace a different strategy and focus on activating dormant ties.

A groundbreaking study by Daniel Levin of Rutgers Business Scool and colleagues asked MBA students to contact dormant contacts—defined as individuals who the students hadn’t been in contact with for at least three years—as well as current active ties in their network for help with an important work project. The researchers discovered that, on average, dormant contacts were more useful than active ones.

Dormant connections differ notably from weak ties. Dormant connections don’t tend to be weak. In contrast, they tend to be once-strong connections that have fallen out of touch. And because dormant connections were once strong, there tends to be shared trust, making it relatively easy to reconnect with them and revive them. While most people overlook the value of dormant ties, these individuals can be a valuable source of knowledge and social capital. While existing strong ties tend to have redundant knowledge, dormant connections tend to introduce new diverse information. While they’ve been dormant, they’ll accumulate new information and contacts and have, in effect, increased their network capacity.

The most effective networkers are always on the lookout for ways to re-engage dormant connections. Using Affinity, they can easily keep tabs on dormant connections and easily determine the best avenues to re-engage them when opportunities arise.

Contrary to popular belief, effective networking is not an innate skill. It can be learned over time. Key to successful networking is the mindset. It’s important to recognize and appreciate that “work” is part of networking. By prioritizing the activities listed above, you'll soon find yourself building an increasingly powerful and influential network.