Do you recognize the classic acronym ‘WIIFM’? If not, it stands for ‘What’s In It For Me?’ and suggests that we make decisions based on the impending value we may gain. Rather than try to refute this, what I’d like to do is upend the way we perceive value.
When I ask people, “What does the term ‘networking’ mean to you?”, I tend to get a variety of answers, many of which boil down to something that is taker-oriented, self-serving, and oddly dirty.
But it’s my hypothesis that this overwhelmingly accepted definition of ‘networking’ came to be because the way people act in association with the word ‘networking’ is wrong, and in many cases dirty. But at its core design, it’s not. It’s human, it’s about connection, and it’s about growing together in community by sharing ideas and resources.
Maybe this doesn’t resonate with you and you’re thinking something like, “Who cares? I don’t need to network anyway.” Or, “I’m good with my network as it stands,” or “I don’t have time to build this type of hokey network, I have goals to hit and dollars to make.”
Cool. I can see why you might feel like that. But thanks to the oft-quoted professor, researcher, and author Adam Grant, if you’re not a giver in relationships, you’re setting yourself up to be less successful (read his book, he explains it well through anecdotes and research).
Here’s why the current way people use networking has changed the game for the worse… And why if you do the opposite, you’ll be poised for greater success (and fulfillment I dare say):
Networking boils down to a relationship between two people. Compare it to dating: do you go in for the kiss when you meet someone? Do you propose after the first date? In most cases, the answer is ‘no’. But why then do so many assume that it’s okay to jump to figuring out what they can get out of someone? It leaves the other person feeling used and like they’re not respected. Flip interactions from transactional to relational. Take your time, finesse it a bit. Wait for the kiss until it feels appropriate.
They think it’s a sprint
Relationships are long-term. By looking to extract immediate value before a real relationship has been formed, you overlook the importance of the basic principle that people want to help people they know, like and trust. And that takes time to nurture. So think long term, take your time.
They’re in it for themselves
People want to help those who help them. There’s a psychological “rule of reciprocation” whereby one feels compelled to give back to those who give to them. While it’s not why we offer value to others before we take, it’s one more compelling reason to do so.
They do it when they need something
If you go out looking to build relationships when you need something, you’ve started too late. You should give twice as much value as you take from a relationship. For that reason, it’s tough to start on the right foot if you’re laying a foundation with your immediate need. It’s best to turn to your trusted network whom you already have in those cases.
The only question they know to ask is ‘What do you do?’
There is a lot more to a person than their title, industry, or company name. By asking that immediately, you become perceived as someone who is making snap judgments based on their reply and how much it matters or is helpful to you. Instead, ask questions about the person. That could be ‘What are you working on that’s exciting right now?’ or ‘What motivated you to come here tonight?’ if you’re in an event setting. Anything that allows for them to light up a bit and connect as humans, not as talking business cards.
Their body language makes it off-putting
When you dart your eyes around a room, angle your body away from the person talking with you, or cross your arms so that both hands are hidden, your body language screams you don’t care and want to escape. Be respectful and be present in the moment, not hungrily looking for someone whom you think is ‘better’.
They overlook the power of someone’s Rolodex
People are much more than they present, and you certainly can’t ascertain the depths of that in a five or even sixty-minute conversation. Treat people with the golden rule and allow your curiosity to help you explore who they are and how you can be of service to them. Lest you also forget that everyone is a gatekeeper to their large network who may be the exact resources you need.
This all results in people thinking networking is selfish, torturous, boring and/or something you do when you need something. Flip the script. Give first. Value the person and a relationship with them more than getting something for yourself. Play for the long-game. I know it works because it’s how I structured my life and not only do I have a meaningful and robust network, but I’ve grown two successful companies solely through giving-centric relationships. Give it a try!
This article recently appeared on Forbes.