Last updated on September 26th, 2023.
Successful networking is all about making connections. They can provide you with career or promotion opportunities as well as build lifelong relationships. Make the wrong networking connections, however, and you can end up hurting your own credibility. This makes strong networking skills even more essential in the business world.
The skills needed for successful networking include communication, listening, using proper etiquette, emanating confidence, building and maintaining interpersonal relationships, showing a positive attitude and sense of humor, empathizing with others, and remaining consistent.
What is Business Networking?
Business networking is all about building and maintaining professional relationships and social contacts. Networking skills are vital in business, sales, and other industries because they are all about developing relationships that are important to your career. Networking skills are vital to maintaining your professional contacts over time.
Remember that business networking is about focusing on people, not opportunities. If you focus on how you network with a specific person, the opportunities are sure to follow. This article will explore 10 crucial networking skills to help you build and maintain a successful career. Read on to learn more.
The Top 10 Skills Needed for Networking
Below are the top 10 most important skills you need to build networking connections in the business world. These skills come in handy in all aspects of life when building connections with others. When it comes to successful networking, these skills are invaluable.
- Active listening
- Asking the right questions
- Improving email etiquette
- Public speaking and confidence
- Building and maintaining relationships
- Staying positive
- Maintaining a sense of humor
- Showing empathy
- Remaining consistent
1. Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Communication is not just the transactional act of sending a message to a recipient who then encodes and interprets the message. This act of communication says something about who you are as a networking professional. It involves speaking, listening, and empathizing with the other person, so they correctly receive your message.
There is a reason why communication is the number one skill needed for networking. It is vital to not only developing these networking relationships but also maintaining them. It all starts with the basics you probably learned in your college-level public speaking class:
- Eye contact
- Tone, inflection, and pitch
- Rate of speaking
- Body language
- Facial expressions
Making sure you work on verbal and nonverbal communication is key in networking. It is not all about what you are saying to someone, but what your body language and eye contact are also implying. You need to be aware of what your body language is saying as well as your recipient’s body language.
2. Active Listening
If verbal and nonverbal communication is the number one skill, active listening is a close second. Active listening means you are concentrating fully on what the other person is saying without distractions. Whether you are networking for yourself or your business, you need to actively listen to understand the exact needs of the other person.
Maintaining eye contact and nodding shows you are paying attention and understanding what is being said. There is a difference between hearing and listening actively to comprehend the content. There are four types of listening:
- Empathic listening: showing you care
- Appreciative listening: listening for enjoyment
- Comprehensive listening: listening to understand the message
- Critical listening: listening to make a decision about the message
Comprehensive and critical listening will be used most with networking. To practice active listening in these situations, start with paying attention. Look directly at the speaker and empty your mind of distractions. Show you are listening by occasionally reacting with looks and words when appropriate.
Active listening is not easy and should be practiced daily. This means you should not just actively listen during networking conversations. Make it a habit to actively listen to your family, your friends, and your coworkers. Pay attention and concentrate on your personal conversations as well as the professional ones. Practice makes perfect.
3. Asking the Right Questions
Being an active listener means providing feedback. Effective listening begets effective questions. If you ask insightful follow-up questions, it shows you are interested enough to actually comprehend what someone is saying. It will help you guide the conversation the way you would like depending on what questions you ask.
You can simply repeat what the person said or summarize the content to make sure you clearly understood the message. What is even more appropriate, however, is asking the right follow-up questions. Asking questions is a sub-skill of active listening and is very important in networking. It will also help you build your credibility and gain trust.
Try asking open-ended questions, which cannot be answered with only “yes” or “no” to get to know the person and their needs better. If you ask simple, closed-ended questions, it may make you seem lazy or uninterested. Thoughtful, open-ended questions show you are sincere and trustworthy during networking.
Asking the right questions is tricky during networking, as you do not want to offend someone or lose your own credibility. Try to keep your questions positive and focused on the content. If you do have something negative to say, use the sandwich method: ask a positive question, then a constructively critical one, then another positive one.
4. Improving Email Etiquette
A decade or two ago, email etiquette would likely not have made this list. Yet, now it is a top-five skill because we do most of our networking and communication via the written word. You may meet people in person, but these communications will eventually move towards email. Therefore, you need to make sure your emails are professional.
No matter what industry you network in, there are some basic rules that should be followed so that your email correspondence does not ruin your networking goals:
- Send your emails from a professional address (email@example.com is not professional)
- Make sure the subject line is clear and direct
- Always keep emails short, succinct, and to the point
- Use professional and positive language throughout
- Do not use emojis
- Check before you reply all, and then check again to see if it is essential
- Double- and triple-check that you have addressed your recipient with their name spelled correctly
- If you are sending attachments, clarify this in the body of the email
- Above all else, proofread everything!
Because these are networking emails, the tone should remain professional throughout the relationship. Even if the other person starts to write a bit informally, you should remain formal and respectful throughout the written communication. Emails will continue to be the leading method of communication, so they should represent you the right way.
5. Public Speaking and Confidence
The first four skills focus mostly on one-on-one communication, but eventually, you may find yourself speaking publicly at large networking events. Improving your public speaking skills will improve both your one-on-one communication and group communication so that people will perceive you as focused and confident.
One of the best ways to practice public speaking is by attending networking events that focus on building connections with multiple groups of people. Just like practicing listening skills, practicing public speaking at large events will improve both your public speaking and your confidence. Public speaking and confidence go hand in hand.
You can build your confidence with positive thinking and visualization before even entering a networking event. Then, you can use the communication skills already discussed—eye contact, body language, listening—to impress larger groups of people with your confident, self-assured, and poised demeanor.
If you are a confident public speaker, it will have a powerful effect on your networking skills. Being a confident public speaker starts with being prepared. Research who you will be meeting at events to ensure you are confident with the information. In addition, watch speeches of those you admire and understand their confidence.
6. Building and Maintaining Relationships
Now that you have the verbal and nonverbal communication skills to speak, listen, and ask questions, you will need to focus on building and maintaining relationships. This starts with focusing on each person as an individual and not just on the opportunities they can give you.
Whether you are at a networking event, a business dinner, or even writing an email, you can build and maintain relationships by focusing on the person. Be fully present with the person with whom you are communicating and show empathy towards their needs. If you are only thinking about future opportunities, they will notice and see you as selfish.
This means maintaining a relationship that is a win-win for both parties. If you come off as opportunistic and self-centered, people will more than likely not want to maintain a relationship with you. You should research and know who you are networking with, so you should be able to compliment them on their positive attributes.
You can also get to know who you are networking with personally. Follow them on social media and get to know who they are beyond the workplace, to a degree. Just do not cross any uncomfortable boundaries, as social media communication can become sticky, uncomfortable, or even embarrassing and could break professional relationships.
7. Staying Positive
A positive attitude is an extremely important skill in networking, but having one and keeping one is easier said than done. That being said, people will be drawn to your positivity, and it can help you develop and maintain strong relationships in your professional life.
Staying positive also helps with building great first impressions with those you are networking with. No one wants to network with someone who bashes their current job, complains about life, or criticizes the industry in which they work. This kind of person is not the long-term investment a potential businessperson wants to make.
In addition to staying positive in your networking life, stay positive on social media. If you complain about your coworkers or your boss, you may get fired from your job and lose important opportunities with other ones. Even if you delete posts, they never really go away, and employers do review social media posts of their potential hires.
Using positive language will make huge impacts on your networking endeavors. Someone who uses positive language is seen as a positive person, and this is important in both verbal and written communication. For example:
- State what you can do, not what you cannot do
- Suggest positive alternatives to a problem
- Be encouraging and helpful
- Use positive phrasing
- Words like definitely, certainly, absolutely, and great are all positive!
8. Maintaining a Sense of Humor
Just like a positive attitude, a sense of humor is also a necessity. Humor can actually humanize you to others and make them more comfortable with you. It can also be used to ease tensions and help with people’s comfort levels during uncomfortable networking events.
Although humor can definitely make you more approachable, humor should also be used with caution. Under no circumstances should you ever use humor that is derogatory towards other groups of people. This will immediately turn others against you for the long haul. The only thing they will remember about you was the joke.
9. Showing Some Empathy
Empathy means feeling what another person is feeling—putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Since networking is all about communication, showing empathy for others is an important skill in networking. Frankly, it is an important skill in all aspects of life.
To be empathic means you understand and can relate to others on an emotional level. It also means you can focus on other people’s needs as your own, which is one of the most successful and sincere ways to build long-lasting connections with others. When you do something meaningful for someone, they will remember it and want to stay connected.
Showing empathy means stepping outside of your own needs and focusing on someone else. This can be difficult when networking can feel like it is all about getting ahead. However, showing empathy is a skill that will help you get ahead. People will trust you and depend on you.
10. Remaining Consistent
Networking should not be treated as a weekend gig or something you do once every few months. Everything discussed above should be a consistent part of your life. Your focus each and every day should be on building your own network so that you can find your perfect professional opportunity.
This means practicing your networking skills with your professional colleagues and your personal peers. In addition, there are regular events being held in nearly every city for almost every industry. Go online and find networking opportunities you can attend.
Your goal should be to find two or three events each month where you can use your verbal, nonverbal, and public speaking skills. Every email you write should maintain the same level of professionalism, no matter if it is for work, school, or your personal life. That way, you can make sure proofreading comes naturally with every email sent.
Consistency also flows over into social media. Try to schedule time each week to reach out through social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Keep your professional online presence updated and, above all else, do not post anything that is not consistent with your professional persona.
How Can I Learn More about Networking?
These 10 skills are just the start to making sure you are networking to the fullest and building your professional and social presence over time. Keith Ferrazzi, an expert in business networking, is offering a new five-step masterclass (which is one of the best courses on Mindvalley) that builds on the steps here and will help you create new networking opportunities at work and in life. There are many masterclasses that help with networking, here is a list of the best masterclasses.