Business “Networking” – Moral or Manipulative?

by Wayne Willis on April 26, 2010

One of my culture heroes is Keith Ferrazzi, whose book, Never Eat Alone, delighted me by amplifying and extending some un-crystallized thoughts I'd had about "networking" -- as that term is used  in the phrase "come to the event; it's a good place for 'networking'."

Let me call this activity "interpersonal networking" to distinguish it from other meanings of the term "network."

I've long thought that interpersonal networking was a nice way of adding value to someone else's life, but I learned that the term is often mistaken for its corrupt cousin, "glad handing."   Ferrazzi has a well-developed, highly authentic, quite generous and very powerful theory of interpersonal networking which reflects the high moral value he and I place on it.  He also abhors the boors who frequent business happy hours, a stack of business cards in their hands, a beady eye looking for advantage and a transparent posture of selfishness.  They are the ones giving this sort of "networking" a bad name.

I believe that the best form of interpersonal networking starts with understanding the other person deeply -- in order to try to be helpful to them.   It's not about what's in it for you.  It's about how you can be helpful to them.  When you are genuinely interested in someone's life, and they begin to understand you are probing in order to be helpful, they will begin to reveal more about their true needs and beliefs ... and the formation of a trusting relationship can begin.   When you actually help them -- with a good idea, a suggestion about someone they should know, solid feedback on their thinking, an introduction to a resource that they need or whatever -- you are not only creating real value in the world, but you are increasing the likelihood of reciprocal value coming back to you.

I don't want to go all Zen and such, but I'm not talking about getting that reciprocal value directly from the person you helped.  The world just seems to be generous to those who give.  Call it karma.  Call it something else.   But it has been my experience -- and many others I admire -- that if you GIVE of yourself authentically, without expectation of a quid-pro-quo, you create value, relationship and an effectiveness that can't be explained as a direct result of the original transaction.

This happens to align not only with many spiritual traditions but with modern understandings about the best forms of "marketing" of intangible services or information "products" -- that you begin a relationship with a potential customer and the GIVE VALUE FIRST.  That value helps build the relationship and may (or may not) lead to the person becoming a customer.  That is, the gift demonstrates your value; the deal delivers even more value.

So don't go to the next business event with a stack of business cards and a hunting mentality.  Sure, you should have some cards in your pocket.  But the real measure of success is when a person you are talking with ASKS you for your card, because they appreciate you so much that they don't want to lose touch.   When you follow up on that conversation and begin to knit it into an array of other relationships and value-transfers, well, THAT is networking, in the best sense of the term.

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