This piece originally appeared on Quora: What are some tips for maximizing network potential and building new relationships?
The networks of relationships we form in the regular course of life are more of a constraint than enabler when it comes to our ability to lead others and be successful. I am not referring to the size of your network, but rather its structure. We tend to form relationships with people who happen to be around us in physical space, such as colleagues working in the same office or people living in the same neighborhood. We are also naturally drawn to people, whether it is people of same gender, background, or profession. So, we end up getting drawn into networks where many of our friends or contacts know one another. Such networks can greatly because they deprive us of the flow of diverse information. They can also limit our ability to .
To maximize your network potential, proactively put yourself in a position where you will have an opportunity to diversify your network. In other words, connect with people who are outside of your regular circle of interaction. To do so:
- Manage your job to shape networks. Get into a rotation program in your organization, apply for an assignment in a new geography, get on a cross-functional project, or move to a different function in your company. For example, studies find that those in their organizations developed networks that were more robust.
- Engage in shared activities. Actively participate in social or sport clubs, volunteer to organize a conference, run a mentorship program, or lead a school activity involving parents. All of these activities will give you access to a diverse cross-section of contacts.
- Ditch the corner office (or the desire to get one)! The corner office is actually the worst space in any building when it comes to building and maintaining a good network. People have to make the effort to come see you, and you must proactively walk around to see them. Forming a good network becomes more difficult. Instead, be by the water cooler, by the staircase, by the business hub, or any other place where people naturally congregate. For example, research shows that being randomly or noticeably increases the odds of friendship with them.
- Offer value to your contacts. Relationships are defined by social exchange: advice, favors, information, or emotional support need to flow through relationships for them to exist. If things stop flowing, the relationship goes away. Learn about your contacts, what they value and need, and approach the relationship with the mindset of “How can I help you?” For additional insights regarding what you can offer to your contacts, check out this .
- Avoid quid pro quo. If you approach someone with a specific goal in mind, you may get the transaction done, but this is not the most effective way to form a long-lasting relationship. People do not like and largely respond negatively to instrumental behaviors. Some of the most successful executives I have worked with invest in their relationships for years before they feel comfortable asking for big favors. Save “I’ll do this for you, if you do this for me” for other situations.
- Don’t race toward having a larger network. Bigger is not necessarily better in networking. It always puzzled me that LinkedIn so prominently displays the number of contacts one has as their primary network metric. This metric is rather useless. It tells me nothing about the number of active connections someone might have or their quality. In fact, some work suggests that there could be limits to how many relationships we can effectively maintain, and it is . The energy and time investments in maintaining a large network can also place an undue burden on your personal life.
If you are interested in additional insights on how to build, maintain, and leverage networks of relationships, check out this.
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Maxim Sytch is an Associate Professor and a Michael R. and Mary Kay Hallman Fellow in the Department of Management and Organizations at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Prof. Sytch is also a Quora contributor. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.