How to do ‘networking’ better

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Cool quote, from here:

Matthew Bothner concludes the interview with powerful advice to MBA students, or indeed anyone looking to use networking, to advance their own status: give more than you take. “If I give something to you, you will reciprocate in some way — that is part of the human condition,” he explains. “The failure path in networking is to go out and try as artfully as you can to take. If you build a network in a more authentic way, which is simply to give and create value where you can, you will build a reputation and status a lot faster than the typical networking techniques.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Here’s the thing a lot of people miss: have you ever heard of the 80–20 rule? It’s kind of like this whole idea that 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of clients/effort, but the flip side is that most people try to construct conversations whereby 80 percent of the time they talk about themselves. That’s fatal to networking. Nobody wants to be in a conversation where 4 of every 5 statements are about the other person. People like to discuss themselves. That’s part of human nature. Remember: selfishness came from somewhere, evolutionarily-speaking.

The whole thing about listening and reciprocating being the actual things you should pursue within networking = the reason why introverts are often better at networking, even though we might not see that or understand that on surface.

I’ve been to a ton of different networking events in my life, and in different types of places too: Houston, NYC, Fort Worth, DC, Minneapolis, etc. These are different kinds of people from different kinds of backgrounds, no doubt. The one consistent — actually, probably the only consistent — across all the locales was that people ultimately want to discuss themselves, or they want to find a way where you and them can intersect (and typically the intersection point won’t involve money at first, because people usually only throw money at something after a couple of repeated interactions).

I sometimes feel like we’ve had this idea about networking for decades where it has to be some Don Draper-looking guy going all Type-A and flinging business cards and half-off-color jokes around the room, because that’s how real men chase business! In reality, that’s total garbage. People are seeking:

  • Relationships
  • Reciprocity
  • Connections
  • Mutual advantage
  • A chance to talk about themselves
  • (ideally) An opportunity to listen

Networking can be totally fraught, but I guess the one piece of advice I’d throw at is pretty simple: be human. Focus on the give as opposed to just the take. And to throw a few more buzzwords at this, stop it from being transactional — “We trade business cards and talk about XYZ topics!” — and make it transformative (“We connected in a real way even though the time was short”).

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.

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