The Give and Take of Networking

Building powerful relationships and partnerships is the very essence of the popular business term NETWORKING. But, too often, young (and sometimes old) professionals think of networking as transactional. “I need to meet you so you can help me be successful.” This folks, is a losing strategy.

In networking, and to some extent in life, there are givers, takers and matchers. Takers are only looking at relationships to see what they can gain from them. Matchers think of relationships as “quid pro quo”; “I will do something for you with the expectation that you then will do something for me.” The magic sauce for networking is certainly not to be a taker, and not even to be a matcher, but rather to be a true GIVER, looking proactively always and everywhere for what you can do for others, with no expectation of return.

It may seem counter-intuitive but the more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from relationships. If you set out to help others, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities.

“When you help someone through a health issue, positively impact someone’s wealth, or take a sincere interest in their children, you engender life-bonding loyalty.”  ― Keith FerrazziNever Eat Alone: And Other Secrets

Strong networks bring you inside information, and that knowledge is invaluable. Strong networks allow you to be exposed to diverse skills, businesses, and business vernaculars, and that gives you greater expertise. And finally, strong networks give you influence, and influence is power.

Sticking to the people we know is a tempting behavior. Creating an enriching circle of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix, all the time. You will need to get out of your comfort zone and out into the world proactively searching for meaningful relationships.

So often, we fail at this because we don’t feel confident in meeting and remembering people who might become a part of our network. Many of us claim to be terrible at remembering people’s names. The main reason for this is that most of us never get the name into our memory the first time. Don’t be self-conscious; focus 100% of your attention on the person you are meeting. Slow down; repeat the name back to the person immediately and be sure you have it right. Ask other questions so you can create an association. “Tell me what you do”; “how long have you been in Hattiesburg”; “Tell me about your family.” Find something to associate the name with to remember it. And here is a tip, it takes discipline, but it will bring you networking rewards. After meeting someone, at the soonest opportunity, record the person’s name and all that you have learned about them. Develop your own personalized memory rolodex.

So, get out there. Be proactive in looking for conferences, trade shows, and social and business engagements where you can meet new people. There are some critical “do’s and don’ts” for networking at social business gatherings. Don’t monopolize someone’s time; make your introduction, learn all you can about the person, grab a card if available and move on. Don’t allow others to monopolize your time and don’t stick with those you already know! Do more listening than talking. 

Again sometimes young professionals are so eager to let others know about them and their skills and ambitions that they talk too much. Ask open-ended questions. Learn about the other person. Seek first to understand them and then to be understood. Aim for 80% listening and only 20% talking. You will have time to share more about yourself later as you develop the relationship. Do follow-up. Drop a quick e-mail, ask for a meeting or lunch (be careful here; as Keith Ferrazzi says, you should go to lunch with someone every day, but respect that for some, a more efficient use of their time is to schedule a 20-minute meeting in their office.) Do, always, be respectful of others’ time. 

Time is money. Don’t muddy the line between networking and sales. If your goal is to network, don’t ask for business. Instead, ask for advice, referrals, etc. Don’t be a suck up! Don’t be over-eager. Do be transparent, honest and genuine. One thing I try to end every network meeting with is asking this question; “Is there anything I can do for you?” Be prepared though, if the answer is yes, you will need to follow through. If the answer is no, just say please let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you. 

Most importantly, be on the hunt for any way possible you can be of any assistance to the person you are coming to know! Be a giver 100% of the time. And when others do ask you for help — large or small — always respond by saying, “I am happy to help.”

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Topics: Strategy, Relationships, Comfort Zones, Networking

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