Communication Essentials - The most important networking skill

On the heels of writing about the things they don’t teach you in school, I thought I’d write about a very valuable component of networking.

Saying no.

This is a perfect example of what I was sharing in my last blog when it comes to how your situation changes as you move through your career.

As you begin your professional journey you are encouraged to take that meeting, snag that call or grab that cup of coffee.

(Related: one thing that hasn’t changed? The adjectives we use to set up these meetings. Take, grab, snag…maybe Gen Z will help us out in that department.)

I followed this advice. I attended association lunches (getting there early to see the nametags, as well as where people were sitting); I sent intro emails; I asked people to breakfast or lunch. I used to go to client meetings 30 minutes early just so I could wander the halls and drop in people’s offices, shake a hand or say hi. (If you asked me what I miss most about the ‘old days’ it would be that.)

But there does come a point, and I’m not sure when that is, where things turn a bit. The joy you have in taking these meetings shifts from pleasure and passion to dread and obligation.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying the person, or the meeting, is met with dread. It’s more about the lost time on your calendar. And when that happens you are doing yourself and the person you’re meeting with a disservice.

There are so many (good) blogs about networking – you just have to Google to find the tips and tricks you probably already know (bring value, establish give and take, have a strategy). But not everyone features maybe the most important part.

Saying no.

Saying no is such a powerful moment. It’s a rush. Go ahead – say it out loud right now.

But because it has such a negative connotation, people avoid using it. I look at it as more of a tool. (Admittedly, one that I forget to use from time to time.)

I take networking very seriously. I place so much value on the relationships I’ve built over the years. I love the opportunity to hear from clients, peers and mentors, what they’re learning, seeing and attacking. In fact, I value these so much that I need to use the word ‘No’ more. Loading up my calendar…seeing a slot and giving it to someone when in fact, I can’t commit the time in a way that is bringing ANY value to the conversation, is not networking. It’s theft. Of their time and energy. Of my time.

And while we’re dishing out the tough love, I have to say… "not now" is not synonymous with ‘no’. That’s how we get ourselves in trouble 30 days down the road. No has to mean no, in that moment and for that particular request. This doesn’t mean you can’t reach out when you’re ready and have time…or even look at a quarterly check-in.

Saying no more will add so much more meaning and value to when you say yes. But we (myself included) have to start somewhere. We have to shift how we look at our calendar management. Start small if you have to. In the spirit of ‘Atomic Habits’, challenge yourself to say ‘no’ to one networking request a week. A month?

Wherever you start, just start.