When you go to a networking event or meet people online, is your main thought what you’re going to get out of the people you meet, or do you have a genuine interest in what you have in common and how you’ll connect?

Granted, you should network with intention. It’s an investment of your time, gas, money, etc. This doesn’t mean to network selfishly, however.

So how can you network and be genuine at the same time?

Define your purpose.

Ask yourself, why am I interested in networking? What do I hope to achieve by being a part of this group/organization/circle? Does being here align with my goals?

If you don’t have goals, it will help to create them before networking. To network for the sake of saying you’re doing it may not be harmful, but it also may not be beneficial.

Ask questions.

The questions you’ve asked of yourself when defining your purpose should be the same ones you seek answers to when it comes to the people you meet.

You don’t have to interrogate people but your conversations should naturally lead you to uncover their motivations in order to understand whether or not they would fit well into your circle.

You should not only actively listen but be observant, watching for non-verbal cues.

Be there to learn.

This whole exercise is pointless unless you retain the information being shared with you.

As you network, you’ll be exposed to a plethora of information regarding resources for yourself or your business. Be sure to take note of details on law and policy changes, technology, tools, the community climate, and other important factors that might affect you or that you may be able to take advantage of.

Some easy things you can do save information is take notes, record audio, use your camera phone to take pictures of material containing important data, bookmark important websites or their content, and make use of the free apps that are sponsored by many events.

Network with people with and without common interests.

Why we should network with people that have common interests is obvious. Having things in common makes your interaction with people more purposeful.

If this is the case, then why should we network with people with completely different interests?

For one, it will be more difficult to relate to people with different interests and for sure it will be hard to select activities both parties will enjoy. But, learning the ability to relate to people that are different from ourselves is essential. It creates compassion, open-mindedness, and adaptability.

Not only this but interacting with people from completely different schools of thought can expose our brains to new ideas and a fresh approach we may not have conjured up otherwise.

Build personal friendships.

We’re all about the remote lifestyle that technology has so kindly bestowed upon us.

Some of us take that lifestyle a little too far, become way too comfortable in a life of wearing sweatpants, avoiding the outdoors, and conversations with anyone that don’t take place behind a keyboard.

This is not healthy, people!

When I stopped working in an office, I realized many of the people I saw at work on a daily basis were just acquaintances and that without daily contact with them, we did not have much else in common.

Because I had given so much importance to those relationships in the past, I was a bit disappointed and this made me turn inward, and also become a lot more cautious about who I would “let in”. Subsequently, I found there were many ways to enjoy my own company which is good, but I also knew that we humans thrive from interacting with each other and I could not let myself become too introverted.

Instead of becoming a hermit, I decided to purposely cultivate relationships that matter to me. This has included relationships with people I’ve considered to be mentors, friends I’ve kept in touch with over the years, and people that I have been a cheerleader for as they work toward their own goals. The things we have in common can vary from parenting, to taste in food, fashion, literature, etc.

These people may be different than the ones we network with professionally, or they may overlap. The point is, having solid personal bonds with others makes it easier to be genuine and build genuine connections with people you network with for business reasons.

Know that if you network this way, growth will happen for you automatically.

This point is for the impatient; the person that goes to networking events and throws their business cards around like they’re going out of style.

And when they’re not doing that, they’re working on closing sales deals that haven’t even gotten started.

It also goes for those whose self-introductions become a 5-minute monologue, and don’t notice when the person they’re talking at squirms and is just dying to make a beeline for the exit.

This person knows why they want to network, and they want to make it worth their while. But what’s it’s worth if most of the people they meet just find them annoying?

When you network, know that you don’t need to give someone all of you on the first encounter. Don’t rush – trust that it can grow over time.

Like so many other things in life, networking is often a marathon and not a sprint. You’ll need to let people become familiar with you and show you’re not a fly-by-night. Other people need to feel that you are valuable, so you’ll need to bring something to the table beside your pitch.

Your networking will most likely need to be about serving others and being of your community. The truth is that while networking you will often need to put yourself aside. This is just not something that can be faked.

Bottom line: Show a genuine interest in others and be a real part of your community. The energy you put out will naturally come back to reward you, and you’ll find support is reciprocated from many of the people you serve and beyond.