So, you live in DC and work in politics. Congratulations, you are now the most powerful person you know from your home town. Unfortunately, you are one of many in this city and it takes more than power to succeed. It takes a village… wait, no it doesn’t. Sorry, I was channeling my inner-Hillary for a moment. Correction: it takes a network.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “of course it does, but that’s easier said than done.” I have news for you – everything is easier said than done. Building a network takes a real effort, but with the proper preparation and execution, networking can be simple.
There are two things I tell everyone when teaching them the secrets of effective networking: 1. Be sincere and 2. Don’t be weird. How does one accomplish these two things? The answer is in the relationships you develop.
Most people think politics is all about who you know and what people can do for each other. While this is true in some regards, those who approach the situation only thinking that are doomed to fail or top out very early. Lasting relationships and coalitions are what truly make an effective professional.
The next time you find yourself in the all-too-common DC scenario of meeting a new person at a happy hour, make an attempt at getting to know who they are as a person and not as a stepping stone you plan on using on your way to the top. This means not asking the question, “so, what do you do?” Instead try, “where are you from?” or “have you ever been here before?” Casual questions can lead to more thoughtful questions and that is when you really start getting to know someone. When you sense the conversation is approaching its end, stop talking, exchange business cards, thank them for the conversation, and move on to the next person. Lingering can lead to inappropriate or nervous talk just for the sake of talking. Avoiding this means you avoid getting weird.
Building a personal relationship with a person instead of their position in life will serve you well in the long run. Someone is much more inclined to help a friend than a stranger, and in the end, if having a new friend is your only consolation, you’re still coming out on top.
Patti Simpson is director of political and career services for the Leadership Institute