True networking comes from a deeper understanding and appreciation of people. As a peer career advisor, I frequently hear students voicing their concerns that “networking” elicits hesitation, which is drawn from a fear of appearing superficial. This can be remedied- not through the memorization and thoughtless practice of small-talk techniques, but rather, an understanding of consistent behavioral patterns that all human beings engage in and an appreciation for each person’s individuality.
Cialdini’s “Six Weapons of Influence”
Dr. Robert Cialdini–a psychologist and author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion–wrote about six main weapons of influence that marketers frequently use based on research in behavioral psychology.
The logic is fairly easy to follow: as social and biological beings, people are evolutionarily built to nurture and engage in relationships. From this need and propensity, the following six behavioral patterns arise that marketers often use as weapons of influence:
With a gift comes an expectation of something in return–and people naturally want to give when they receive. Marketers encourage people to consume by offering free samples of their products and free trial versions of magazines. Great networkers do not feel guilty about giving. Whether they send an article to someone they met, send a hand-written thank you note, or give people relevant information that might help them out in some way, the people they meet will naturally feel propelled to give back. And usually, they do.
Our aversion to cognitive dissonance–or the uncomfortable feeling of holding contradictory thoughts in our minds–drives us to act in accordance with our past actions or commitments. Marketers take advantage of this propensity by getting our verbal commitments to products upfront, which in turn increases the likelihood that we will buy them later- even when extra incentives are removed. Networkers provide incentives for engagement–and, once elicited, capitalize on the commitment that the incentives induce.
3. Social Proof.
Evolutionarily, what others do matters to us. We constantly look for cues in our environment to gauge our performance. Especially in situations where uncertainty and ambiguity pervade, other people garner information about how socially acceptable their actions are. Marketers utilize this by emphasizing in marketing campaigns that everybody (or a significant population of those that the targetted group wants to associate with) is using and buying their product. Networkers, on the other hand, pay attention to and comply with etiquette and decorum in networking situations. Furthermore, they engage with people who might be floundering in an uncomfortable environment.
4. Familiarity and Liking.
People generally like others who are in some way similar to them. This seems like an obvious statement, but it has tremendous implications for marketing and launched the advent of viral marketing techniques. Networkers are effective when they seek a commonality in conversations with others, and they are aware that authenticity trumps flattery.
Aristotle detailed three main elements of a persuasive message and speech: pathos, logos, and ethos. However, his emphasis was disproportionately centered around ethos, or the credibility of the speaker or messenger. People generally obey and are influenced by authority figures, and marketers capitalize on this by seeking out endorsements by influential people. Networkers, on the other hand, work to project confidence in their area of expertise to garner authority.
When things are offered for a limited time, people respond by buying more of those things- and doing so quickly. As a result, marketers capitalize on these feelings of urgency by advertising short lived sales and offers. Networkers understand the principle of the statement when it comes to their personal branding: they choose and propagate a unique personal brand, with the expectation that a scarce appealing brand is more valuable and memorable to others than one of many of similar brands.
From Six Weapons of Influence to Six Weapons of Understanding
The Six Weapons of Influence, as detailed by Cialdini, can and should be used as Weapons of Understanding. At the end of the day, no matter how knowledgeable you are about human behavioral traits, it will make little difference if you approach networking as a mechanic, inauthentic, and impersonal venture. Taking the initiative and seeing it as a means of exploration, appreciation and learning about others is a start. Understanding well-researched behavioral traits only serve to enhance the process.