Having a strong network of professional connections can lead to job opportunities, client referrals, and other career advancement. However, networking can be a challenge for many people who are naturally shy or have a hard time building relationships.

To make the process easier, we’ve compiled tips for effective networking and building professional relationships.

Be yourself

Being genuine is key when it comes to networking. “You’re only as good as your reputation,” Ferrazzi says, so it’s essential to be yourself at all times, even in the more formal settings of business events or meetings. Having the right facial expression can go a long way, too. A smile is more inviting than scowling, which can make others feel uneasy or unenthusiastic.

Being personal—discussing your pets, for instance, or your love of a particular sports team—can help you build rapport with your networking contacts and create common ground from which to start a relationship. But keep self-disclosure to a minimum when it’s inappropriate for the setting or context, as this can come off as crass or impersonal.

Networking can be intimidating, but you can overcome it by focusing on building meaningful connections with people who can support you and your goals. And, most importantly, don’t apologize for asking for a favor or for trying to connect with someone.

Be curious

In addition to reducing the terror of networking, curiosity has also been found to help people cope with rejection. One study even showed that curious participants were less likely to experience reductions in life satisfaction after encountering social rejection.

Instead of coming into networking events with a “what can I get” mindset, try approaching them as opportunities to learn. Focus on asking questions that allow you to gather information from others, such as how they got into their industry and what they find exciting about their job.

Be sure to write down any names and contact information you receive after having a meaningful conversation. This will ensure that you follow up properly and are not prone to forgetting the names of new connections, which can be frustrating for both parties. In addition, it will give you something to jog your memory when the time comes to connect with them again. This can make you seem proactive and will show your interest in their professional growth.

Be polite

Politeness goes beyond a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. It also means following up on meetings when you say you will, turning off your cell phone and ignoring its alerts in public, and using proper table manners when dining with colleagues. These simple courtesies can make a huge difference in how people perceive you.

Practicing politeness also includes knowing when to apologize for your mistakes, Tsai says. For example, if you accidentally interrupt a colleague during a business meeting, you should admit that you were wrong and sincerely apologize.

It is important to remember that networking conversations can be a bit awkward at first. Providing a polite yet effective way to close out a conversation will leave your new connection with a positive impression and a desire to develop the relationship further.

Be receptive

The relationships created through networking can offer professional advice, job referrals and career opportunities. However, it is important to remember that networking involves forming relationships and that these relationships take time to develop. To maintain these connections, it is a good idea to contact them periodically with helpful information and to make an effort to meet in person.

When networking with people, avoid distractions such as your phone and look at them directly. Show a genuine interest in them and their work by asking open-ended questions, listening actively, and providing thoughtful responses.

After a networking conversation, follow up by sending them articles that add value to the discussion or new opportunities that you believe they may be interested in. This can help you to establish rapport and create a sense of reciprocity in the relationship. It also shows that you are thinking about how to assist your network in the future, which can help you build a stronger relationship.

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