I know, you’re busy. And often you’re so focused on your own work and your own development that it’s hard to take a step back—and a deep breath—and see how you can engage more meaningfully with the people around you. We've got you covered with this super easy networking strategy.
In my post, 7 Great Ways to Build Better Professional Relationships, I recommended kindness as a core strategy for creating positive experiences with the people in your network.
So let’s talk more about kindness as your best networking strategy
Your first strategy for shared positive experience is being kind. It’s really simple: just look for ways to be kind to others. To implement this strategy correctly, you need to treat everyone with respect and generosity, to give freely and without expecting anything in return.
I’m a big fan of the idea of random acts of kindness: doing good deeds that can never be traced back to you. Some examples include leaving a great book on the subway, making an anonymous donation, or paying for the order of the person behind you at the drive thru. Anyone who has tried committing daily acts of random kindness will tell you it feels good.
But let’s talk about Workplace Kindness.
Workplace Kindness means adding an extra step of thoughtfulness and kindness to your daily work activities. It's the simplest networking strategy you could possibly employ. Here are some examples:
- Ask someone how they are and genuinely listen to their answer. Be there.
- Say yes to someone who asks for help or a favor.
- Teach someone something.
If you start to engage in daily acts of workplace kindness, you’ll notice a few surprising things.
Life will start to seem easier. If you’re focused on ways to be nice to others, it’ll be harder to take your own frustrations too seriously and it will be easier to keep things in perspective.
People will start naturally returning the favors.
But most importantly, you’ll get to know your contacts in a more personal way. To keep committing acts of kindness will require you to get to know them better.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. —Dalai Lama
Herein lies the power of this networking strategy: kindness helps you develop true friendships in a professional environment in an organic way. People promote the people they like. One of the best ways to be likeable is to turn professional colleagues into professional friends.
This doesn’t mean you have to babysit their kids, play 18 holes of golf with them every weekend, or spend every Saturday night out on the town together. In fact, you never need to hang with them outside of work. But it does mean that you need to connect with them as a complete human being and not just as “boss,” “subordinate,” “peer,” or “networking contact.”
Here’s an example of what I mean.
Think of a close friend. Could you name two or three things they like to eat? How about stuff they hate? If you were going to surprise your good friend with lunch, what would you get him?
This question is probably easy to answer for your close friends. You know their taste.
But what about the people in your office?
Let’s try the Lunch Test.
Take a moment and walk around your office. Take note of a few things:
- Which people do you feel you know really well?
- Who don’t you know very well but wish you did?
- Who don’t you know at all?
Then come back to your desk and try the Lunch Test:
Ask yourself this question: If I were going to buy lunch for each of the people I saw on my walk, what would I get them?
You might know who eats Paleo, who’s avoiding gluten, and who’s a vegetarian with a nut allergy. But if you wanted to really surprise them with something they love, could you do that?
In most cases, the answer is probably no.
Food is always a great way to connect with people. Everybody’s gotta eat, and most of us find great joy in a delicious meal.
To begin expanding your relationships with colleagues, use the Lunch Test. And then…
Start to get curious about their tastes. What kind of food do they like? What’s their favorite neighborhood restaurant? What’s the one place around the corner they will never eat at again? What’s their go-to splurge meal?
What if you were going to take them out for ice cream? What flavor would they get? What flavors would they NEVER get?
Food is just one possible kindness launching-off point.
It’s a good one, though, since it’s on the outside of the safe Social Distance Circle. But deeper intimacy begins with curiosity. As you begin to get to know people better, you will learn what kind of movies they like, the hobbies that get them out on the weekend, and the aspect of their work that gets them out of bed every morning.
As you get to know your colleagues better as whole people, you’ll naturally find that your relationships expand, your collaboration improves, and new opportunities will start to present themselves.
Want more ideas for Workplace Kindness to get you started? Here are 34:
34 Acts of Workplace Kindness
- Bring in breakfast for colleagues.
- Email a compliment to a coworker.
- Remember people’s birthdays.
- Let your boss know how much you appreciate him or her.
- Leave a handwritten thank you note for someone who did you a favor.
- Send flowers to the office manager.
- Take 30 extra seconds to clean up the office bathroom sink before you leave.
- Put sticky notes with positive slogans on the mirrors in restrooms.
- Stop and listen.
- Get coffee for your cube mate.
- Congratulate someone on a positive life event.
- Take a new hire out to lunch.
- Email that person who’s been waiting to hear from you.
- Bring in fun office supplies for colleagues (think crazy color pens) to make the day more fun.
- Get coffee for a busy manager.
- Hold the elevator.
- Say thank you to the office cleaning crew.
- Thank a mentor and tell them how they’ve helped advance your career.
- Relay kind words you heard about your friend to someone else.
- Stop by and say hello.
- Donate to a charity where your friend is a board member.
- Keep an extra umbrella at work and let someone borrow it.
- Cut a colleague some slack.
- Surprise a peer with her favorite lunch delivered to her desk.
- Say thank you to your boss’s assistant.
- Have a stack of postcards at your desk and write a friendly note to someone.
- Ask someone what you can do to make their day easier and then do it.
- Tell your boss about the great work of a colleague.
- Give thoughtful constructive feedback to a subordinate.
- Say yes to a small task no one else wants to do.
- Say thank you to a busy executive assistant.
- Say no to a request you can’t fulfill, but thank the person for asking you and give a helpful suggestion for its completion through other means.
- Reach out to a colleague you haven’t talked to in a while (no matter how long it’s been) and thank him or her for what s/he helped you learn.
- Sing someone’s praises when they aren’t in the room (and when they are!).
And don’t neglect online acts of kindness!!
Here are 12 online ideas:
- Endorse someone for an important skill.
- Give a testimonial.
- Say congrats when they get a promotion or achieve a work anniversary.
- Send a happy birthday note.
- Connect them to someone else in you network who works for a company they like.
- Retweet their important tweets.
- Tweet articles they publish in your own feed.
- Give them a shout out and let others know why they should follow, too.
- Make thoughtful, positive, supportive comments on their posts.
- Send a direct message on their birthday.
- Post a “thinking of you” message to their wall.
- Add their name to a comment in posts that you think would interest them.
As with any public forum, be sure to respect the boundaries of social distance. Don’t risk sharing secrets or facts about someone that they don’t want their network to know about and be sure to use caution when making public gestures of support through online platforms. When in doubt, don’t reveal any information about your friend. Instead, react supportively to the information they share.
Hope you like these suggestions! If you do, check out my new book How to Network Without Feeling Like an A-Hole. It's out on Amazon December 3!!