Know Nothing, Network Well

When you go to a conference and network with a diverse group of lawyers it isn’t necessarily obvious what you should do to prepare. The typical advice is to get a primer on recent headlines within the industry, or at the very least with local happenings. While this is good advice to start up a conversation, the tip I want to give today is that it’s possible to network well and make a memorable mark by “knowing nothing”.

The trick is to take a deep interest in people you seek to make a connection with. What are their hobbies? What are their greatest loves? Explore them – everybody loves to talk about what they love the most, what makes them tick. Taking a real interest in someone makes them feel important and will make them remember you. This advice was given to me by a mentor who handed me a book I now constantly recommend in turn – Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People.

What if you know nothing about the hobbies or the loves? Is your conversation partner an avid fan of golf, but you don’t know the difference between par and a putter? No problem. Ask what it is about golf (or whatever the topic is) that makes it so beloved. Perhaps it’s spending time outside in a luscious green space. Or it’s the opportunity to spend several hours with companions thinking of nothing but hitting the next ball, living in the moment. Or it’s the eternal competition with oneself. The deeper the exploration, the more abstract the reason, the better your chances are of meeting them on the same ground.

Similarly, winning beauty contests is not necessarily a matter of peacocking – showing how great and wonderful you and your firm is. It may instead be a matter of listening to your clients and understanding what their real needs are. In my days as a new lawyer I would meet new clients and assume they wanted to hear about their rights. I’d lecture on about the law and legal rights, preening on about my knowledge of the law. Not surprisingly, I did not win many beauty contests. But when I changed gears and made the meeting a real conversation with questions like “what’s your greatest concern?” and “what do you want me to do for you?” I began to win clients over.

So if you’re not up on the latest in hockey, don’t despair. You can network well without knowing the latest headlines, sports or hobbies. The key is to listen and to take an interest in others.

-Ian Hu, Toronto.

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