The networking secret to doing business in Ottawa

by Laura D’Angelo

Building meaningful and authentic relationships in business can be a real challenge under the best of circumstances. In Ottawa’s high-pressure political atmosphere, this task can be doubly difficult.

The reality of political life in Ottawa is that most people who work together are also friends who socialize outside of work. This interesting dynamic is fondly referred to as the “Ottawa Bubble” – and learning to navigate the bubble is critical to building and maintaining meaningful relationships and connections.

Networking seems like the obvious answer, but you won’t get very far if you treat it as a transactional interaction — where it’s obvious that you are only motivated by a quid pro quo relationship.

Instead, the real payoff comes when you take a genuine interest in the people you meet and make an effort to get to know them personally, rather than just connecting based on your assessment of what they can do for you. Many in Ottawa are trained to work off a script and/or toe the party line. When you make a connection that extends beyond business, you learn about each other’s personalities, opinions on various topics and styles of communication. That basis of understanding helps you form a great connection and begin to read between the lines of what is being said.

Cultivating meaningful relationships with business contacts

1. Resist the temptation to ask people what they do 

Whether you’re at a formal networking event, a reception or on a more relaxed social outing, hold back on asking a person what they do for a living until you’ve taken the time to get to know them. Instead, engage in typical small talk. Ask them where they’re from, what their hobbies are or if they’ve been on a recent vacation. If you’re in the same room as them, chances are that you have common interests.  

2. Make meetings social

Even if you only have 20 minutes of someone’s time, invest a few of those precious minutes chatting. Ask about their week, or follow up with respect to something personal they may have told you in the past. Differentiating yourself by showing a real interest in their life beyond their job will build your relationship and just might get you an hour-long meeting next time. Especially in Ottawa, where so many spend whole days meetings with stakeholders.

3. Put yourself out there

People give all kinds of excuses for avoiding meaningful networking opportunities. Some people don’t feel comfortable talking about their personal lives, while others insist that networking is a manufactured way to build a relationship or that personal and business shouldn’t overlap. But networking is about so much more than that. Rather, meaningful networking is about making genuine connections that will help you both do your job well – and enjoy it.

Talking networking and building business relationships can make these interactions feel less genuine — but it shouldn’t. Employing these tips will make networking more enjoyable, and in so doing, will help you build a large circle of interesting professionals. You will learn things you didn’t know and find commonalities with people whom you may have thought would have nothing in common with you. Ultimately, even if you can’t see a direct route now, these relationships may become mutually beneficial in the future.

While our team at Wazuku comes from all different backgrounds and industries, one thing we have in common is a love of building connections and networks. We are happy to share our connections and our skills with our clients, through advocacy work and by training and teaching you to build your own networks.

Laura D’Angelo is a senior associate with Wazuku in Ottawa. Laura honed her networking skills through her work as a student leader at McGill University and as an event organizer and fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Canada. She aspires to use her many connections in her quest to play a role in building what she considers the ultimate community: Canada.