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How to Network Without Being Annoying

Nilofer Merchant has been called the Jane Bond of Innovation, but perhaps more impressive than her product launches, books, TED talks, and awards is her ability to network without being irritating about it. In a recent Fast Company interview, she explains how to do it.

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(Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee/Flickr)

"I surround myself with fellow travelers," Merchant says. "Networks are the new companies. None of us create value all by ourselves; it's our connectedness that let's us create work. We’re doing stuff with other people. And these people -- a network, using the more technical term -- in our lives shape who we are (by influencing what you think about) and what we make (by helping us get things done). So I am pretty thoughtful about who gets on my calendar and making sure to stay in touch whose opinions and ideas I want to shape mine."

What can we take from that, for our own networking efforts?

1. Be selective.

Merchant has thousands of people in her network, but her closest connections are to people who are on the same page as she. Don't feel the need to accept every friend request and endorse every former co-worker. Pick and choose, and you'll give value both to your efforts and to the efforts of those you connect with.

2. Be genuine.

Later in the interview, Merchant talks about how she strives to eliminate negativity and work that doesn't engage her. Focus on the things that inspire you, and you won't have to fake enthusiasm for things you couldn't care less about.

3. Prioritize.

Merchant engages in "inbox triage" by answering easy questions first, and saving the rest for later. Email can suck up time under the best of circumstances, and if you're in full networking mode, it can be even worse. Don't try to stay on top of your email by answering everything as it comes in -- it doesn't work. Pick times to answer email and stick with your schedule.

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