Zen and the Art of Schmoozing for Networking and Career Growth

CN_Marc_v1_eSchmoozing is a yiddish term that in its purest sense means a friendly, easy-going chat – without any slimy, ulterior motive. When done right, it’s a great technique for smart networking. But lately, the schmooze has at times come to convey a far less genuine intent – conversation initiated for no other reason than to gain business or political favor.

A real pity because, to network effectively, being a great schmoozer is more likely to get you the solid networking connections and career growth you want. In fact, good networking really is all about how well you schmooze!

Using the art of the schmooze to network for jobs

I want to talk about the good type of schmoozing. And how you can use it to network for jobs, helpful connections and career growth. The cool thing is, you don’t need to be doing any of that with conscious intent to get yourself those results. At least not when you’ve learned the true art of the schmooze!

A tale of two schmoozers: Why am I even telling you this?

Today I met with two different people at the same company. Both bright and helpful. Both sincerely wanting to help. But one of them was especially skilled at the art of the genuine schmooze. And he was the one I found myself wanting to trust my business to.

Schmoozing is a conversational art that can help you in job search, job interviews and throughout your career. And the best thing is, when artfully done, it’s absolutely painless for you and the other person. In fact, it should feel pleasant for both.

We get so caught up in goal-oriented behaviors in business, that sometimes the skills we really need to hone get sacrificed. Is what I’m doing right now going to mean we meet our targets faster or earn more money? Add that to a world where shorter is often viewed as better – tweeting, intra-office IMs, quickie emails, etc. – and real schmoozing seems like a thing of the past.

But the secret is … schmoozing is definitely a skill of the present and of YOUR future. And if you learn how to do it well (luckily each attempt counts as practice), there will be ample rewards, not only because you might actually enjoy the interactions more, but because it builds connections and relationships, arguably the most important thing for a truly successful long-lasting career life, whether you stay in the same industry or not.

The 8 secrets of smart schmoozing

  1. Listening – Of all the business skills you can work on, listening is probably the single most important one. Maybe that sounds weird. I mean, we all know how to listen, don’t we?  Actually, no. Most people are not great listeners. They’re too busy thinking about what they just said or the next point they want to make or maybe, as in a job interview or business meeting, how they are being perceived. The next time you talk to someone, make an extra effort to carefully listen to every word and get what the person is really trying to tell you – and take time to listen not only to the words, but the feeling underneath, in effect listening fully to all the messages you’re receiving. It changes the conversation.
  2. Staying in the moment – This means being there fully with the other person – again listening to what is really being said – even if you have things going on in your own life or you know there is a meeting in 10 minutes. Don’t let the other person feel you are somewhere else. Be there in this particular moment, making the conversation the most important thing in the world – the only thing that matters right now.
  3. Sincerity and warmth – Be real. People feel when they’re being played or when you turn on your “business personality”. It gets in the way of true communication. But when you engage in genuine communication, where you aren’t afraid to let the other person see you as a real person, the quality of what you each receive is greater. And the possibilities for building strong, lasting connections increases.
  4. Real interest in the other person – I’ve sat across from someone who asks questions, but you see their fingers tapping or eyes looking around while I answer. I get that they are probably hearing what I said, but they are not showing that they’re really interested. Oh what a special thing to feel the other person is not only interested, but really getting what you say. A good schmoozer asks questions and follows up on things you are saying – and they also make you feel interesting. How can you do this if you think people are mostly boring? Make it your goal to find out things that they care about – and then let yourself get caught up in their excitement. All people are interesting once you decide to let go of any barriers and look for what makes them light up.
  5. Looking for ways to be helpful – Schmoozing is of course about good, easy-going conversation. To go with that, it’s a good habit to look for ways that you might be helpful to the person. Not only is it a smart practice to learn to see ways you can be of assistance to others, but it lays the groundwork for lasting connections. And even if you see no way this person can be “useful” to you, do it anyway. And get back to the moment where there is nothing other than the connection and the communication. If you get stuck in “what’s in it for me”, you lose lots of opportunities that aren’t obvious. Just for now, do the schmooze and let go of any calculations or strategizing.
  6. Knowing when (and when not) to ask for help for yourself – Since I mention this as part of networking and career growth, much of which happens seamlessly as you build strong, sincere connections, I don’t want you to think you should never ask for anything for yourself. Just don’t make it the primary focus. One of the worst impressions you can leave behind is the feeling that you were just there for the favor and you can’t wait to get away now that you asked.  Even if the person says no, keep the connection positive. This is the long game, not a quick end run.
  7. The gentle close – As nice as it is to have a schmoozy conversation, you both have other things to do. So settle in, enjoy the schmooze, and when it’s time to get going, stay in the moment. And stay in the warm, friendly manner. Don’t be in the next place until you have left. Look the person in the eyes, shake their hand and smile warmly, letting them know how much you’ve enjoyed speaking with them. And you get 100 bonus points if you mean that 100%!
  8. Keeping the connection warm – Think about ways to continue the connection. A quick note related to a mutual interest or maybe a success of theirs you heard about or just an occasional hello, letting them know how you’re doing. Not every case calls for follow-up, of course, but just imagine the networking connections and business relationships you’ll have after 10 years if you do this for even a small percentage of people you meet. VERY important to start schmoozing early in your career, but the good news is, it’s never too late.

Please feel free to share your own schmoozing experiences, either as the schmoozor or the schmoozee! What qualities do you look for most when talking to other people?

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