(Editor’s Note: Today’s post is an excerpt from my book, “Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers.” The book is available on Amazon in hard copy and Kindle, in the iTunes store, and directly from the publisher.”
Networking meetings are about giving. When I share information with someone, it doesn’t mean they owe me. It’s possible that I will ask someone for information, and they’ve never asked for anything in return. I might start out a business relationship by giving more than I’m getting. You could also find this to be the case on social media platforms. You’re sharing more of other people’s work than they’re sharing of yours.
The spirit of networking isn’t about keeping score. Some people refer to it as paying it forward. It’s the expression used for describing when the beneficiary of a good deed repays it to someone other than the original benefactor. According to Wikipedia, the phrase may have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book, In the Garden of Delight.
In thinking about it, I believe we have to separate networking and paying it forward. Networking is about mutual exchange. Paying it forward is a gift with no expectation of return. In fact, the expectation is that you will gift someone else.
If done correctly, networking does have a “return the favor” element to it. We often feel obligated to do something nice for someone when they’ve done something nice for us. Granted, it might not be right away and there’s no scorecard to make sure the exchanges are always in balance. But I’m challenged to think of one situation where someone is very willing to be called upon repeatedly for business, information, and jobs without some level of future expectation.
I’ll confess. I know people who only call me when they are looking for a job. Now maybe they think I haven’t put the pieces together and don’t realize that. But as soon as I get a note saying, “Hey! I’ve been thinking of you. Let’s find time to have some sushi.” I know they’re looking for a job. This is not networking. If I choose to help them, it’s really a gift or a favor, depending upon how well I know the person.
We do favors for people we know. If a complete stranger asks for a favor, I’m not sure we process it the same way as when our best friend asks for a favor. This implies that a little mental benchmarking takes place when a favor is requested.
We do favors for people we like. Yes, admit it. Whether we know the person or not. If someone you don’t really care for asks for a favor, we are less inclined to help than if someone we like asks for a favor.
The challenge with networking is maintaining the balance. Networking is something we need to be successful in our careers. So we need to get something out of it. But to get something, we need to give something away. Successful networking involves looking at the big picture, not the short-term.
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As you’re out there building your networking circle, the last thing to remember is that networking is forever. A HUGE mistake many people make is they don’t start building a professional network until they need one (translation: lose their job) – and then it’s too late. You need to network every day, all day and all the time. You never know who you might meet and when you will be presented with an opportunity – just make sure that you’re ready.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby0