WINGWORKING: How to Network like a Trusted Partner

Updated: August 21, 2009

As a professional speaker and consultant, I've been able to network and build trusting relationships with a lot of very successful people all over the world. This truly has been a blessing and I really enjoy facilitating what I call "wingman connections" in my network.

My travel schedule often prevents me from networking locally in my hometown of Atlanta, but this past week I was home so I went to a few events. Now, I'm no pro at networking. I wish I was better at working a room but I would rather have 3-4 personal conversations about something of substance than meet twenty strangers, sling some cheesy conversation back and forth, get 20 business cards, and then leave wondering who the heck I spoke with. I want to plant seeds and nurture future wingmen, rather than seek my next business opportunity. It's just not me.

I have to admit that I get wound up watching certain people who will only acknowledge or speak with someone if they see a big, juicy dollar sign on their forehead, or if they look like a person of influence who can ‘hook them up.'

You may bump into them at the hors devours table and they strike up a (one-way) conversation. Then they enthusiastically ask for your card and toss it in their pocket without even looking at it. "I'll send you an e-mail and we'll connect" they say. They go home, toss out your card and you never hear from them again (unless of course, you had that dollar sign on your forehead.) But rest assured, you're now on 3 new marketing lists and getting spammed from some nimrod who knows nothing about sales, networking, or relationship building.

"But hey, it's all about relationships." Yeah right!

Can you relate?

Well, let me be up front. I used to be that wingnut! Maybe not to that extreme…but when I networked in the past, it was all about me. But not anymore.

So, now here's what I do. I sit back and watch. I watch the people who are listening rather than talking. Are they paying attention, or just waiting for the next dollar sign to appear? Are they smiling? Do they appear interested in who they are talking to? Do they seem kind and trustworthy?

I look for a possible wingman…a future trusted partner.

Now, this person doesn't have to have a job, be super successful or have the potential to get me business. I just want to meet someone I can build a connection with…someone I respect from the inside out who wants to take their life or career to the next level. Someone passionate about growth and who is a hard worker. I get excited about helping these types of people. It gives meaning to my mission.

We all know the job market is tough right now and business is lean. People are struggling. Many are out of work and they're trying to fly with broken wings and they can't. They need help. But unfortunately, most networkers look for the next job instead of the next relationship. They look to garner the next sale, instead of garnering trust. Their radar can't see beyond their own short range targets.

So, here are a few "outside the cockpit" networking wingtips that will plant seeds for future personal and professional opportunities and build wingman relationships.

  1. Take the focus off of yourself. Look to meet a few people who you can help, either through your knowledge, your trusted connections, or your encouragement. Ask yourself - "if not me, then who in my network do I know that can possibly help this person." Be genuine in your desire to help.
  2. Ask unique questions like, "What are you passionate about in your life right now?" or "What are you doing now that's cool?" (My friend Brendon Burchard likes to ask that.)
  3. Wingwork, don't network - Introduce people and facilitate new connections during the event. Be a connector. If people you meet have similar hometowns, hobbies, or business backgrounds, introduce them.
  4. If you say you will follow-up, make sure you do.

Remember, in order to find new wingmen, you have to be a wingman.

Networking is just as much about finding those with broken wings who you can help to get airborne again as it is about finding new wingmen who can help you fly to new heights. In this tough economy, let's all do our best to be wingivers while networking. Let's not leave anyone behind.

If we all lent a wing, we all would fly.


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