Does this seem like an appropriate question to ask a networking contact or is it too personal? I’m going to suggest that you begin to ask about people’s personal lives when you network.
One of the goals of networking is to grow your sphere of influence: to add more and more connections and to develop many of them into mutually beneficial relationships to enhance your business and personal success and well-being (and that of other people).
Everyone you meet in the networking process has a uniquely different network than you do. If you are effective at building trust and connection with them, they might just open up their network to you. The largest value of this new connection may lie not in the person in front of you, but the people that they connect you to. Their people…and that includes their spousal partner.
There are fewer connections as strong as married couples. They live together, sleep together, eat together and hopefully love each other. Spouses have influence over and equity with each other. If one of them likes you and wants to help you in networking, they may be talking about you to their spouse at home. Let’s hope it’s positive talk.
A recent eye-opener
I had been working on making inroads with a prestigious, regionally-based accounting firm with multiple offices in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I was excited when one of my speaking engagements led to an introductory meeting with the Chief Marketing Officer of this firm. That successful first meeting led to the request for proposal for a series of training seminars on business networking skill development for their associates.
As I was working on the proposal, I received an email from a good networking friend Judy who told me that her husband came home from work that day and told her that the CMO of the firm reported to the partners that they were going to be working with me on this professional development initiative. I had never met Judy’s husband before, but he was very familiar with me because Judy had mentioned my name enthusiastically to him on several occasions.
What I didn’t know was that Judy’s husband worked for this particular accounting firm and that he held a very senior position there. I never bothered to ask about her husband.
Judy took the initiative to reach out to the CMO and give her endorsement of me. She told him in a hand-written note that I would be perfect for the firm. She did this on her own accord without prompting from me. Judy’s email motivated me to write a winning proposal – helping me to visualize a successful outcome.
It is ironic that me, the networking maven and author of the book Networking Ahead for Business, never bothered to ask Judy questions about her family life. I knew that Judy was a person of influence and connection in the business community. I never asked her about her husband. Too bad, as I could have potentially accelerated my new business development cycle.
I told this story with Judy and asked her permission to share it with you as a weekly networking tip. She agreed and also gave some additional insight with me on the topic.
“When you are out to dinner with another couple or when you are at a business dinner or event, use your conversational skills to get people talking. People love to talk about themselves. In this social setting, you are allowed to ask about and learn about their family life and personal interests. It’s not like a formal interview, where you can’t talk about anything personal.”
Your Networking Goal for the Week
When you are networking with other people this week, be sure to include the question “what does your spouse/partner do for a living?” If the spouse is a stay-at-home mom/dad, inquire what interests and organizations he/she belongs to. Consider the possibility of how you could help your contact’s spouse through your network and resources. Share information about your spouse/partner when you network. Be on the look out for new connections for your better half. For your closer contacts, consider doing a couples dinner outing or inviting them over to your home for a meal. Get to know the partner in addition to your original networking contact. This could enrich and extend your sphere of influence and allow you to deepen your relationships.