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Ask 3 questions to expand your network

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

To gather market intelligence and grapple with your industry’s ever-changing competitive landscape, you can’t sit at your desk. You need to expand your network and keep probing to learn more from others.

Opportunities to pick up useful information can arise at any time. You may not realize that the person you’re chatting with at the gym can shed light on a tough issue you’re facing at work.

Think in terms of Buckminster ­Fuller’s “corridor principle.” Fuller (1895-1983), an architect and inventor, envisioned a long hallway with closed doors lining both sides. He said in many cases, the door you think would open remains locked. But the one next to it will open unexpectedly.

The principle applies to business relationships. The person you’re intent on courting may prove illusive or uncooperative. But you may meet another individual along the way who’s even more helpful.

To maximize your ability to meet more people—and open more doors—sharpen your mingling skills. Before ending a conversation after you meet someone new, ask three questions:

1. How can I help you? Explore ways that you can support the other person’s success. Perhaps you can make a referral or offer to speak and share your expertise at that individual’s organization.

2. What ideas can you share with me? Solicit input on decisions you’re weighing. Invite others to enhance your understanding by, say, discussing their experience dealing with a similar challenge or connecting you with a valuable resource.

3. Who else do you think I should meet? To keep opening doors, ask for more contacts. If you skip this question, you may miss chances to talk with otherwise inaccessible VIPs who might provide wise counsel.

— Adapted from How to Be a Power Connector, Judy Robinett, McGraw-Hill.

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