Sometimes I really hate the term networking. Maybe it’s because I don’t come from a business background, but the word’s always left a bad taste in my mouth. It seems artificial to me. I think of it sort of like this, “Hi, I don’t know you, but clearly knowing you will help me get ahead in the world. And since you’re a person who can help me out, I’ll kiss up to you, whether or not I like you, so I can get something out of you.”
Anybody with any sense at all could tell you that relationships are important. And I don’t think the corollary of my cynical viewpoint is sensible, either. If you go too far to the opposite extreme, you could spend your days holed up in your house hoping someone will drop out of the sky and pay you for your brilliance because they enjoy helping out hermits.
The reality I’m beginning to understand is that we all help each other out. Most of us can accomplish much more with a team behind us than we can on our own. Getting to know other people doesn’t have to be fake or based on ulterior motives.
I recently ran across this quote from Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi:
When I give talks to college and grad students, they always ask me, “What are the secrets to success? What are the unspoken rules for making it big?” Preferably, they’d like my response wrapped up in a tight package and tied with a neat little bow. Why not? I wanted the same thing at their age.
“So you want the inside scoop,” I respond. “Fair enough. I’ll sum up the key to success in one word: generosity.”
In other words, help people. Love them and serve them. People will respond.
I think it’s also important, too, to love yourself and to be willing to accept others’ generosity to you. That might even mean you ask for help as you need it. For me, at least, I hate feeling like I’m imposing on someone else, because it seems like it just isn’t nice.
But I’m trying to think of it differently now. If someone else has an opportunity to help me, that puts me in a better position to help others later on. Once I benefit from an introduction or advice, later on I’ll be able to advise someone else.
For example, I’ve done quite a bit of writing. Not too long after I moved to where I live now, I went to a meeting where some writers invited me to join their writers’ group. And I loved it! Those writers have become some of my best friends. They’ve torn apart my writing and made it so much better. So now, I often help other writer friends with their manuscripts or articles or query letters. I’m in a better position to guide others than I ever would have been if someone hadn’t extended an invitation to me.
This kind of generosity goes beyond just “being nice.” To really help other people, we need to put forth some serious effort. And that’s where most people fall short.
It means we have to write down or make a record of people’s names. We might have to remember what they tell us about their lives and be creative about how we can help. If we know someone’s going to show up at some event we’re attending, we can do research ahead of time to learn more about them so we’re prepared. This helps us know what matters to them. Maybe if we don’t have anything in common with the person we’d like to meet, we can find out what causes they embrace or even what matters to the person’s friends or families. And then we might have to rack our brains to see what we can do to make a difference in their lives.
So networking doesn’t have to be about mining people to take advantage of them. To be successful at networking, it’s more important to be generous and to be genuinely interested in people. It might require some creativity and effort, but that’s a definition I can live with.
This guest blog has been provided by Kaylie Astin, founder of Family Friendly Work, for the Women’s Business Center.