With your networking practice, are you building a front porch or are you building a deck?

One of my favorite authors, J. Michael Straczynski, claimed that people building decks were the beginning of the downfall of our society. Where before we would sit out on our front porch in the evening and greet and know our neighbors, now we hid away in our private world, never interacting with anyone around us.

Whether you believe that’s true or not, the concept of building front porches does apply to networking. In order to create a strong network, you need to make those around you welcome in your world. In other words, you need a front porch big enough that you can invite people up for a lemonade and a long chat on a hot summers day.

So, what makes a big front porch?

First of all, you’ve just got to be willing to reach out. At an event, you’ve got to be standing until they tell you to sit. Reach out to others with a firm handshake and a smile. After the event, make the call to set up a coffee. Beyond that, make a point to stay connected.

Second, help them get in the conversation. Ask them questions about themselves and be sincerely interested in their responses. Ask for their advice or recommendations.Be interesting by being interested.

Third, be ready to share. You’ve got to make yourself selectively vulnerable in order to maintain the conversation and thus the relationship. A conversation where only one person is giving information is called an interrogation. Really, you’re probably better off if they aren’t getting uncomfortable thoughts of being waterboarded when they are talking with you.

Remember, sitting on your deck is no way to build your connections. You’ve got to put yourself out there and set up shop on the front porch. Only then will people be willing to stop by for a spell to visit, to share, and to connect.

Photo credit: Loretta Humble