Six Degrees of Separation

Givers Gain.
- The Networking Guru, Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI

Earlier this month I attended an alumni-networking event. Part of the evening included an open microphone where people could introduce themselves. One very enterprising woman made the most of her 60 seconds. By the end of the evening she had found one new accountant, two potential clients and three dates!

Clearly, networking is a very powerful tool when used appropriately. After all, who among us has not played the "Do you know...?" game. Whether the six degrees of separation phenomenon makes for an interesting cocktail party conversation or a business strategy is up to you. Either way, here are some points to consider:

Beware And Be Kind ~ The gossip grapevine is closer than you think. With only six degrees of separation, you should always be wary about saying anything negative about someone. "You would not believe what a cheat John is!" "Oh really, he is my cousin." You get the picture. Besides, saying something negative reflects badly upon you. When meeting someone new keep the conversation light and positive.

Natural Networks ~ The idea of meeting people and networking is to form connections. These connections can be for business (new clients or prospective vendors), or social (an apartment to sublet or a romantic date). The idea here is to expand your circle of influence and become a member of the community.

Karma ~ While the idea of networking is a give and take it is not always a one-to-one proposition. Remember that some things take time to cultivate. So while you may be able to drum up business for a new contact, they may not be able to reciprocate in the near term. Be open, be giving and be patient. Your networking will bear fruit if given time. One contact I made had a gestation of 7 years, but was well worth the wait.

Always Carry Cards ~ Don't leave home with out 'em. You should carry business cards with you at all times. A few in your wallet will do. This way if you strike up a conversation with someone and want to follow up, you have your contact information at the ready instead of having to search for pen and paper.

When I was looking for a new hairdresser, I asked one of my neighbors for advice and she referred me to her stylist. As I was having my hair done, I noticed a book on the stylist's shelf and commented on the author, who I knew by 3 degrees of separation. "Wow!" the stylist replied, she knew the author by 2 degrees of separation. Hence, before we even met, the stylist and I could already be connected by 6 degrees of separation:

Jodi » contact Jeff(1) » consultant Ginger(2) » author Cheryl(3) » Cheryl's stylist(4) » my stylist(5) » my neighbor(6)

Walt Disney was right, it is a small world after all.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I have heard the phrase "six degree of separation" and wonder where this concept comes from. Do you know?

A: Stanley Milgram of Harvard University first tested six degrees of separation, also known as the "small world" theory, in the late 1906's. His experiment went as follows:

"In 1967, the Harvard Social Psychologist Stanley Milgram sent roughly 300 letters to randomly selected people in Omaha, Nebraska with the instruction to get the letter to a single "target" person in Boston using only personal contacts. Milgram gave each "sender" some information about the target including name, location, and occupation; so that if the sender did not know the target (and it was extremely unlikely that they would), they could send the letter to someone they did know who they thought would be "closer" to the target. Thus began a chain of senders, each member of the chain attempting to zero in on the target by sending the letter to someone else: a friend, family member, business associate, or casual acquaintance. Milgram's surprising finding was that for the 60 chains that eventually reached the target, the average number of steps in a chain was around six, a result that has entered folklore as the phrase "Six degrees of separation."

For more information, please visit the Small World Research Project.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I met a woman at a networking event a few years ago. Since that time, she has contacted me regularly to ask me questions. At the beginning, I was happy to help. But now I feel she is just using me for free advice. Since there is the potential for future business, I want to be nice, but the constant questions are draining me.

A: Turn the potential business into current business. The next time she contacts you, suggest that since she has had a number of questions perhaps she should come in for a consultation. Let her know your hourly fees, or if she would feel more comfortable, you would be happy to refer her to a colleague. You may need to repeat this message, but by the third time, she will get the idea.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I have just opened my own business and know I need to get out there and network, but I am not sure where to begin. Any suggestions?

A: There are a wide range of networking groups out there; you should attend at least two meetings before deciding which to join. Some of the more popular places to start are: