How to Strengthen Your Network

A communication expert’s advice for connecting with new people in our virtual times.

Texas McCombs
Feb 22 · 3 min read
Image for post
Image for post

There’s an overused phrase that it’s not what you know — but rather whom you know — that helps us achieve success. In a time when many of us are working from home and in-person networking events are a distant memory, there are still opportunities for getting to know new people.

It’s no surprise we need strong networks to advance our careers. But, there are other reasons for networking: We can also benefit creatively from getting to know strangers, explains John Daly, TCB Professor of Management at the McCombs School of Business and Liddell Centennial Professor of Communication. He is the author of “Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Other.”

You can start by meeting strangers in online groups. If you are looking to improve at, say, public speaking, I am sure there are sites out there filled with others just like you. Join up and you’ll first meet a lot of strangers, but quickly you’ll become acquaintances.

One person I know has always wanted to fly planes but never got around to it. But since COVID-19, he’s joined sites like Reddit, Facebook, and LinkedIn to get advice from strangers about where to go for flying lessons, the best planes to learn on, and so on. Some of those strangers have become pals.

First, stop negotiating with yourself. Too many of us forgo opportunities because we fear that we might not get what we want. We literally talk ourselves out of opportunities.

With strangers, why not try to connect? What’s the worst that will happen? Probably nothing. But perhaps good things will happen. So just try to make the connection. There is a very old statement made about some people, often in their obituaries: “He never met a stranger.” That means that no matter who they met, they created some sort of connection when they first talked.

Find a “reason” for connecting.

I tell my students to use me as an excuse: “My professor gave us an assignment to talk with someone in your role. I’d like to visit with you.” Most people will probably say yes.

Find something you might have in common and use that as a leverage point to get a conversation going. You can start up a conversation looking for what researchers call an integrating topic — one where both people have something in common. When we get back to more face-to-face conversations, I might ask a stranger, “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” I keep asking these sorts of questions until we find something in common to chat about. Use a lot of open-ended questions.

Volunteer to organize things that might help you connect. At work, you can organize a time for a meeting or set up a poll to see when people are available. You can find an electronic card for everyone to sign for a colleague who’s out of the office with sick kids.

Outside of work, you can show people a great place you’ve discovered for a distanced hike: “I’m going to be there on Saturday about 2 p.m. If you want to join me, just let me know.”

Email to ask questions about something. For example, “Hi, I work over in the College of Natural Sciences doing PR and writing news stories. I have heard that you are really good at that. Would you mind having a conversation? It doesn’t have to be long, but I would love to get your advice.”

It’s often better to ask for people’s advice than asking them a question. One goal people should have is to get adopted by others — you’re successful when others want you to be successful. Asking someone for their advice gets them more committed to helping you.

Story by Jeremy M. Simon

Big Ideas

Research and insights from Texas McCombs

Texas McCombs

Written by

News, business research, and ideas from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Learn more at www.mccombs.utexas.edu

Big Ideas

Big Ideas

Research and insights from Texas McCombs

Texas McCombs

Written by

News, business research, and ideas from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Learn more at www.mccombs.utexas.edu

Big Ideas

Big Ideas

Research and insights from Texas McCombs

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store