Networking and building meaningful relationships

A person standing in a smart jacket write on a flipchart with a marker pen

Like it or loathe it, making personal contacts is essential for anyone’s career development. But how can we make the most out of networking, and build meaningful connections?

Effective networking is especially relevant in the built environment sector. We need to be working across disciplines, sectors and borough boundaries to be able to tackle the big issues London and other cities face.

This was the focus of the highly interactive half-day skills workshop we ran with facilitator Rasheed Ogunlaru for Future of London’s Alumni Network and Devonshires delegates. Rasheed is a life coach, motivational speaker and leadership, business and executive coach.

The challenge of networking

Rasheed began the session by asking participants what they found challenging about the idea of networking. This brought up a lot of shared experiences and fears.

These ranged from wanting to feel more confident and relaxed about meeting new people, to how to introduce yourself into others’ conversations, how to actively follow up, and how to network if you’re introverted or shy.

Plan your networking

Rasheed stressed that it’s vital to plan your networking. Firstly, you need to understand that you’ll have both personal and professional goals, and these may be different. Think about who you already know and how they might help you.

One top tip was to make a list of ‘I have’ and ‘I need’ in terms of contacts/aims for business and/or personal development. Remember that networking doesn’t just happen at work events – it can also be through colleagues, social activities, awaydays and even weddings!

It’s also essential to be aware of potential difficulties, e.g. where your own views may diverge from the position of your organization.

“Why don’t you see things my way?”

Next, we looked at the psychology of connecting and influencing. We all experience differences in age, personality, life experience, culture, political views, backgrounds, values and beliefs, among many other aspects.

Take time to know yourself and the situation and type of people you’ll be meeting. Being authentic and developing your own ‘personal brand’ is key. How do you want people to feel about you?

Rasheed stressed that making an impact is visual, vocal and through words: 55% body language, 38% voice and tone, and 7% spoken words.

To start to see things from other people’s point of view you need to listen – don’t try to provide solutions. Instead, open questions that allow people to describe or expand on something rather than saying yes or no are best.

These could be as simple as: What brought you here today? What do you do/what are you working on? What led you into that field?

Participants then tested out their skills in pairs, with three minutes to find out three things in common with each other.

How did we feel at the end?

Rasheed also covered the importance of networking strategically online in the same way as in person. At the end of this dynamic session he encouraged participants to commit to making their own action plan for networking with specific targets, priorities and deadlines.

The session closed with participants sharing what advice they would now give themselves about networking. Many felt they would try to listen more, would be bolder and more curious, and felt empowered to get started or recommit to networking that they had previously put aside.

Top tips for effective networking

  • Be strategic – create a plan. Make a list of ‘I have’ and ‘I need’. Who are your targets? What are their desires, needs, fears? Who do you already know?
  • Listen – don’t try to provide solutions. Ask open questions: what is your goal? What brought you here today? What are you working on? What led you into that field?
  • Practice – take time to practise networking, in a mirror or recording yourself, to see how you come across.
  • Be succinct – small talk can get a big result! Introduce what you do in 10 words or fewer: “Hi I’m Sarah, I do research and manage networks for built environment professionals”; don’t use technical terms or acronyms.
  • Find small groups – if you want to join a conversation, find where people are in ones or twos rather than larger groups.
  • Use your strengths – extroverts aren’t the only ones that are good at networking. Introverts can be better listeners and better at one-to-one conversations.
  • Be polite but honest – if you need/want to exit a conversation, say something like: “nice to meet you and I’m going to carry on networking – is there anyone you’re looking to meet”? You don’t need to meet everyone – be aware of your energy levels.
  • Be authentic – take time to know yourself and what you/your role/your organization needs and wants – how do you want people to feel about you? Be aware of cultural and other differences.

We will be holding three more workshops in November 2024, May 2025 and November 2025. Please check our events page for further details.

This workshop was sponsored and hosted by Devonshires solicitors, as a part of our Alumni Network offer. Devonshires are also supporters of the Future London Leaders programme.