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4 Networking Strategies to Master the Art of Connection

If there’s any secret I’ve learned to success in life and business, it is that learning to connect and form with relationships with other people is the most valuable skill there is

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My earliest memories from childhood revolve around my mom’s battle with ovarian cancer. I loved my mom and always wanted to play with her in my hyperactive way, and my dad would pull me away from her so that she could rest. When she died, I remember seeing my dad sobbing against a tree and I could feel how much pain he was in.

As a result of those early experiences, I realized early on that there were a lot of people around me who were secretly suffering and in pain. Unconsciously at first, I also realized that despite going through a ton of my own and suffering, I wanted my life to be about helping people as deeply and meaningfully as I could. In other words, I wanted to relieve other people’s suffering because of how much I was suffering myself.

Through all my life experience, I’ve since gotten a reputation as “the most connected person on the planet” (not my words) through my many business endeavors. If there’s any secret I’ve learned to success in life and business, it is that learning to connect and form with relationships with other people is the most valuable skill there is—and most people don’t know how to do it. 

Part of the reason for that is mastering the art of connection requires a deep understanding of other people’s suffering, which can be uncomfortable to navigate or even to understand. To that end, here are four proven concepts I’ve used in my life that you can use to master the art of connection.

1. Ask “How Are They Suffering, And How Can I Help?”

To understand this, you have to understand suffering in the broadest sense possible. Everyone has different problems, but the way I think of suffering encompasses everything—from small inconveniences or wishes to deep mental anguish. In short, there is suffering everywhere, and much more than most people realize.

While suffering has a bad reputation, I attribute so much of my success in life to having a different opinion. It’s never good to see other people in pain, but suffering is not always a bad thing. In truth, suffering can be very powerful, because it can create incredible opportunities for deep connections with people. In fact, it’s a huge reason why people form relationships with others at all: connecting with someone else alleviates suffering and transforms everyone involved, usually for the better.

2. Learn to Become a “Pain Detective”

We’ve likely all heard the business wisdom “your network is your net worth” so often that it starts to sounds like a cliché, but most of us accept it as true. So, how do you grow your network, especially if you have trouble connecting with others? The answer that I give to everyone is simple: you must become a pain detective to connect with others in a genuine way. Doing this means focusing on their needs and their pain first, and your needs second.

Though this may sound counterintuitive, it helps to consider the landscape where this advice will be applied. For most people who are looking to network or connect with others, their main concern is what others can do for them, not what they can give or provide to others. Similarly, the most successful and high-profile people tend to be huge givers of value to the world, and yet they spend most of their time surrounded by takers as a result.

If there’s any truth to the stereotype that people at the highest levels of success can be aloof or hard to connect with, it often comes from having so many negative experiences with other people who want to take advantage of them.

“Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities.” – Michele Jennae

3. Understand Communication vs. Connection vs. Escape

When connecting with others, genuine interest and curiosity in their needs without trying to immediately get something in return is a huge superpower that sets you out from the crowd. In conversations with others (particularly when networking), we can feel when we’re freely communicating with someone else, when we’re deeply connected, and when someone is trying to escape the conversation. The best thing we can do to have better relationships with other people is to pay very close attention to these cues!

If two people are only communicating, they may be speaking to one another on a surface level and not touching anyone’s real needs (in other words, not probing anyone’s real suffering). If that’s the case, try taking the conversation in a more sincere direction; ask some deeper questions, reveal something personal about yourself, and take more risks to get to true connection.

On the other hand, if you feel that you or someone else is trying to escape an interaction, pump the brakes and try to figure out why. What is it about the conversation that is painful or you or the other person? Can you address that pain head-on and bring the conversation to a more comfortable, fun, or memorable place?

4. Focus on Transformational Relationships, Not Transactional Relationships

While this advice is incredibly simple, it is shocking how few people truly understand it and use it in their conversations and interactions with the people they meet. When it comes to building networks and connecting with others like a genius, we all have to market and “sell” ourselves in some way, which can cause anxiety and inauthenticity that keep us disconnected from one another. Still, it’s important to remember that what causes those negative feelings is disconnection and nothing else.

When your connection with someone else is genuine, “selling” becomes transformational rather than transactional. It relieves your suffering and the other person’s suffering all at once—but it has to begin with thinking about them first, not about you.

Joe Polish is the founder of Genius Network and GeniusX, President of Piranha Marketing Inc, Creator of the Genius Network Interview Series, and Co-Founder of 10XTalk.com and ILoveMarketing.com, two highly popular free podcasts on iTunes. Joe’s marketing expertise has been utilized to build thousands of businesses and has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for his clients, ranging from large corporations to small family-owned businesses. Known for his entrepreneurial focus on value creation, connection, and contribution, Joe’s leadership is the reason he’s one of the most sought-after marketers alive today. Joe has helped raise over $3 million for Virgin Unite, Sir Richard Branson’s foundation. His current philanthropic endeavors include JoeVolunteer.com, ArtistsForAddicts.com and Genius Recovery. Joe’s mission is to help change the global conversation surrounding addiction and addicts from one of judgment to one of compassion.

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