In the years since writing “Never Eat Alone,” I’ve been building on the de facto title of “one of the most connected people in the world” to delve into how to turn those connections into relationships. After all, it’s relatively easy to create a network by collecting cards and sending out email blasts. But those networks are broad and shallow. There’s virtually no “there” there.
Converting the superficial “contact” into a friend, ally or lifeline requires more effort. You have to discover how you can be generous to others, where you can partner and what you bring to the table that’s unique and beneficial. Luckily for you, through trial and more than a little error, I’ve discovered the following hacks to help smooth the way to strengthen your network through developing deeper relationships.
1. Take care of your priorities first
I usually get some pushback on this, but if you’re going to have a robust network you need to prioritize the relationships. You already do that because the Facebook friend you haven’t seen since high school, but occasionally like their photos, isn’t going to rate as high as your spouse, so don’t be afraid to assign the same kind of priorities to your network. Who’s an A-level top priority versus a C-level casual acquaintance? Knowing this will streamline your efforts to taking care of all of them and open up opportunities to be of service.
2. Blend, don’t balance, your work-life divide
For a lot of us, our work is our life, so separating the two can be difficult, and yet we still tend to see the day as a whole that needs to be broken into distinct segments, or “balanced.” But what if we smudge those distinct lines? Or better yet, make the day into a series of Venn diagrams. Find where your personal interests overlap with a new professional contact’s and invite them to join you. You still get to enjoy a good boot camp workout or a Dodger playoff game, but you also get to develop that professional relationship over shared interests.
3. Make your aspirational contact’s gatekeeper your best friend
You can’t just will a relationship to happen, especially if the person is someone everyone wants to know. You have to prove your worth before you can even get in the door. And the best way to prove that worth is to befriend and partner with that person’s executive assistant. Make yourself available to them for help or advice. Focus on working with them. They’ll remember how you reached out to them when it’s time to get that meeting with their boss.
4. Partner with complementary contacts to plan a co-branded event
Although it may seem counterintuitive on the surface, your weak ties are often your greatest allies in developing a diverse network since you’re less likely to have the same interests and people in common. Finding where you do overlap and planning an event around that helps you both strengthen your relationship and open up your respective networks to new people. It can be something as simple as a dinner party, but make sure that those involved have enough in common to make it worth their while and are different enough to generate new collaborations.
These are just a few hacks that can help you develop that deep, strong and diverse network of relationships.