Networking is a great tool for business development.  If you are a lawyer in private practice, building solid referral relationships is the best way to grow your business and networking is a great tool to accomplish this.

One way to increase your networking effectiveness is to find common ground with the other professionals you meet. Maybe you grew up in the same place.  Perhaps you attended the same college or graduate school.  You may share an interest in the same sport, enjoy the same kind of movies or have an interest in the same hobby.  Whatever it is, finding a connection with someone can help build a business relationship.  I’ve written about that here and I recently did a podcast on the subject.

For me, New York has always been a great source of connection with other professionals.  Like many people who grew up in New York but left, I enjoy talking about how the city has changed (for the better).  And like many New York expats, I’m always happy to talk about why I’m still happy I left.

A few weeks ago, I attended a networking function of HR professionals.  I started a conversation with the director of HR for a local hospital and at first, it felt like we did not have that much to discuss.  We talked about the new pay equity statute in Massachusetts, the challenges that older workers face in the job market and other HR subjects.  I was interested in hearing what she had to say on these topics; however I was thinking that I should probably move on to the next person in the room.  The rule at networking functions is that you aren’t supposed to talk to anyone for more than 5-10 minutes.  If you want to continue the conversation, ask for their business card and tell them you’d like to follow up for coffee.

But somehow, we got on the subject of where we grew up and it turns out that like me, she left New York City at a relatively early age.  We both moved from the City when we were teenagers (at a time when the crime rates were much higher) and moved to the suburbs where we both attended high school.

Once we were talking about New York in the 1970s, that’s when the conversation really got going.  I shared what it was like to move from a mixed socioeconomic neighborhood to a relatively well heeled suburb (one that lacked diversity.)  She share a similar experience.

It was much more meaningful to both of us to talk about the shared experience of moving to the suburbs than it was to chat about the latest developments in employment law.  We were both much more engaged once we had found some common ground.

So when you are out networking, don’t be afraid to turn the subject away from the purpose of the networking function.  Sometimes, sharing common experiences can be a better way to establish rapport with the people you meet.  And it is through these shared experiences and interests that you can strengthen your bonds with people who may be in a position to refer you to your next client.


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