A Dog’s Guide to Stress-Free Networking

A common source of stress is meeting new people in unfamiliar social situations. For instance, starting a new job, moving into a new neighborhood, or attending networking functions.

Something impressive I have noticed about our young cavoodle is his natural ability to make friends with strangers – dogs and humans. (He was even dubbed “Switzerland” at Puppy School because he got on so well with all the other dogs.) Because of Leo’s highly refined social instincts I have been observing him closely, and have discovered six of his networking secrets. It’s worth noting these have been thousands of years in the making. Here they are along with some tips on how to put them to use.

He’s thoughtful about who to engage. As Leo runs into the local sporting oval, he is scanning for people who are either standing alone or at the edge of a group. He instinctively knows these are the people most likely to engage with him. He also seems to understand that people who are already actively chatting in a group can be resistant to an outsider interrupting their conversations.

Photo of dog waiting for person to pickup and throw the ball.

He always smiles when approaching people. The tail wag is, of course, the dog’s equivalent of a smile. Because life can be dangerous, both from a physical and social perspective, it pays to be cautious when approached by someone we don’t know. Our brains have evolved to help out here by looking for cues on whether or not to trust someone. A smile is usually an indicator of good intentions, as is Leo’s vigorously wagging tail.

He knows how to trigger the reciprocity response. If someone gives us something, we instinctively like to return the favor. In social situations this can be a handshake, a gesture signifying respect, or a compliment. After his initial approach, Leo lobs his ball so it rolls and touches the feet of his new friend. Then with tail still wagging, he makes eye contact, inviting them to reciprocate. The person inevitably responds by picking up the ball, despite it being covered in slobber, and throwing it for him to chase.

He doesn’t take it personally if there is no connection. Most of us have felt the sting of being ignored or having an offer of friendship rejected. While Leo’s hit rate is over 90%, occasionally a person either does not notice him or actively ignores him. In these cases his strategy is to assume they haven’t understood his invitation to engage, so he again lobs his ball at their feet. If this doesn’t work he simply moves on to someone else.

He stays focused on the other person. If you have ever been in a conversation where the other person is looking over your shoulder as if there must be someone else they’d rather be talking to, you’ll know how awful this feels. Leo knows better. Once he’s engaged with someone, nothing else matters. And when he retrieves the ball they’ve thrown, he runs back to them maintaining eye contact and again drops it at their feet with his tail wagging. At that moment they probably feel like the most important person on earth.

He knows when it’s time to go. After a few throws and some initial laughter, most people start to get sick of wiping the slobber off their hand. They may at this point pat him on the head and turn away. Leo usually takes the hint and philosophically moves on to make a new friend

6 ways to put Leo’s strategies to work

  1. Select people who are more likely to welcome or benefit from your interaction. I have often made valuable business contacts from introducing myself to people who were sitting or standing alone.
  2. Walk toward people with a relaxed, warm smile. Remember your tone of voice and demeanor is a reflection of your thinking, so cultivate kind thoughts.
  3. Offer a firm handshake or appropriate greeting, while maintaining eye contact. If you know something positive about them or their business, also offer a genuine compliment.
  4. If they don’t wish to engage with you, move on graciously. Don’t take it personally as they may have other things on their mind.
  5. Stay focused on the person you are talking to. I always have a more enjoyable and valuable networking experience from fewer, higher quality conversations.
  6. Move on when the conversation reaches its natural conclusion. And leave the person with something positive you’ve enjoyed or appreciated about the interaction.

Leo and I hope you found these insights of value. If you’re interested in another Leo story you might enjoy Lessons my Puppy Taught Me. And if you work in a franchisor Support Office and want to practice your networking skills I encourage you to come along to a Culture of Franchising Workshop. You’ll meet like-minded people from other brands and gain practical insights for communicating effectively with franchisees. Click here for details.

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