Networking and Relationship Building
Effective Networking is about Giving and Not Taking
The first thing to realize about networking is that everyone you meet (or almost “bump” into by accident) is a useful prospective network contact. This seemingly simple fact is often overlooked, as people engage in their own private screening process before they will talk to anyone in any kind of substantial way. Of course, there is obviously a line to be drawn between talking to everyone and anyone in the street and talking to almost no one. However, if you want to network more and to do so successfully, there are many situations that qualify as “the right opportunity”.
It is often the case that in reality, we don’t really know very much about even close people around us (let alone distant contacts). Even if we do know a little, we are even less likely to know how far or deep the skill, knowledge or resources such people have may extend. If this is true of your knowledge of others, how much do they really know about you?
Herein lies the basic secret of networking success – you have to become interested in anybody and everybody and you have to share more about yourself than you may have done in the past. It is out of this mutual exchange of knowledge that network contacts will connect and start to offer support, help, advice, favors, referrals and other benefits on a regular basis.
Although the point is not particularly complex to grasp, developing a conscious understanding of this “giving and sharing strategy” can take some time and some practice. In her book “How to master networking”, Robyn Henderson calls this process “earning the right to ask a favor of another person”, or “giving without hooks”. Both of these statements imply a dual process that operates pretty much at the same time (and both of them not necessarily our first reaction):
GIVING INFORMATION AWAY (to be helpful)
Whether it is accidental or planned, formal or informal, or random or structured, in discussion with other people, the effective networker offers their knowledge, skills, ideas, resources, guidance or data freely – without any ‘hooks’ or expectations that repayment is due in any form. In fact, the only immediate benefit may be the pleasure you derive from assisting someone with some information that was of value to them. And while the giver expects nothing in return, the receiver has a very positive experience and memory of you upon which he or she can act (if he/she so chooses) in the future. If he/she does, either directly or indirectly, at some indeterminate time, you may receive some reciprocal benefit.
BEING OPEN FOR ANY HELP (but without expecting any)
Along with openly offering your support and help whenever you can, the effective networker does not operate as a “one way helper” or “super person/white knight/angel” coming to the rescue of everyone else and never in need of assistance themselves. Such a person should also realistically talk about their own goals, tasks, challenges, problems and general issues and accept his or her own vulnerability in not being able to do everything him/herself. This means being open to help when it is offered and, on occasions, asking networking contacts if they can suggest ideas, strategies or approaches that could assist you.
Two processes of giving and being open to assistance from others operate at the same time and together to create a cycle through which ‘favors’ are continually offered to all that participate. These favors are both offered and taken in order to keep the network strong and capable of growing to include more and more people. This two-way process described above is called ‘reciprocity’ and simply means that effective networking is a coin with two sides rather than just one (and you can’t have one without the other). Successful networking is therefore about:
- Giving and receiving
- Contributing and accepting support
- Offering and requesting
- Promoting others needs and being open and honest about your own needs
- Trust and persistence
The whole process of “giving away” our skill or knowledge without expecting anything in return is not necessarily an easy step for anyone at first, and will need considerable practice to make it natural and an instinctive way to operate. A good place to start is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes who might want to network as much and as successfully as you do. This should help you to more easily think of what sort of things they would expect of you.