Ever wonder how people find the time and energy to “network”?  I’m drawn to write this post because of three conversations I had with friends in the last week, each of whom commented on my ability to stay in contact with lots of people.

Is there a secret?  No, but there is a method.

First, about those three friends.  One I spoke with is a natural superconnector. She seemingly knows everybody, she genuinely makes people feel important, and people want to be around her.  She has difficulty, though, keeping of track of all of her connections, making sure she does not fall out of touch with those who are most important to her, and remaining in closest contact with those she cares about most.

A second friend is also a naturally open and warm person.  She complained, however, that she hates “networking” because it always seems so needy.  She doesn’t like to go to events trying to find new faces, only to talk about why she should be important in their lives.

A third friend is a different sort.  He’s very pleasant, but naturally shy and reserved.  He mentioned with a laugh that I seem to always be introducing him to others and seem to know someone at every event.  How, he asked, could I find the time and energy to make so many diverse connections in so many different walks of life?

As I have mentioned in prior posts, human interaction is built deeply into the human species.  We are hard-wired to want to interact.  Our need to connect explains many baffling behaviors, like laughter.  Yet with all of the commitments we build in our modern lives, it is difficult to make connecting with other people a priority.

The system I use helps to remind me of the importance of maintaining and growing connections.  If it sounds like it makes the task too structured, suspend judgment and give it a try, because it actually makes connection close to second nature.

The method uses the most basic of modern technology:  Microsoft Word.  In the next few paragraphs, I will describe how to build the basic tool.

The Basics. Open a new document, and title it “Master Connection List.”  Under that, create a table (using Word’s table function), making seven columns, labeled:  name, business, date added, rank, last contact, type and notes.  Simply create a row for each of your connections, listing their name (last name, first name), their employer, the date you added them to the table (see note below about date format), their “rank” (A, B, O, or X, described below), the date you last contacted them, the type of connection they are (e.g., business, personal, political), and any notes (I sometimes keep email addresses here, or special follow up reminders).

Rank. My “ranking” system is not designed to say that some people are “better” than others in some social-class sense.  It does, however, mean that some people demand or merit greater attention:

A rank of “A” is reserved for those few connections you treasure most.  Close family and close friends and confidantes. As a practical matter, this rank will likely never grow greater than 30-40 people.  That’s because these are people with whom you share real confidences.  These are people who mean a lot to you, and you want to make a special effort to stay in contact with them.

Those with “B” ranking include those whom you consider connections — business colleagues, friends, etc. — who are not as close as your few “A” connections.  Over time, this will likely grow to be your largest group.

“O” is for people you don’t consider connections yet, but for one reason or another you believe they are “opportunities” for becoming a B (or A) connection.  These may be personal or business acquaintances, friends of friends, people you’ve just met whom you’d like to know better, and so forth.

“X” would be reserved for people who are stale opportunities, or “B” connections with whom you have not stayed in touch.  These are people who, unless you decide to act to reinvigorate the relationship, will fall off your connection radar and off the list.

How does an O become a B, or a B become an A?  How does one of the foregoing become an X, or fall out of the table altogether?  These are matters of judgment, and each of us will have his or her own dividing lines.  I’m not going to make all the decisions for you.

Dates. Record the date columns (both date added and last contact) in the following format:  YYYYMMDD, so that April 21, 2010 would be 20100421.  This will help when you use Word’s “sort” function, as described in the next post.

What you have done, in this simple exercise, is sketch out a powerful tool for keeping in contact with other people.  Tomorrow I’ll explain how I use the table, and how this simple table can help you grow and maintain connections.

Building Connection (1) – A Simple Tool for Growing a Network