The Key to Being a Good Networker is Being a Decent Human Being
Most people loathe networking. Chiefly this is the result of prior interactions with others who view networking as a shell game where the person reaching out always wins and your well-being is largely ignored. It is so disappointing that one of the ways that human beings can connect suffers from such poor performance and reputation.
I hold firm to the notion that the key to networking boils down to being a decent human being.
Over the last few days, I held conversations with colleagues who were anxious about reengaging their network. In all of these cases these were individuals who weren’t seeking anything, simply wanted to reconnect with former colleagues and one was offering access to financial resources to founders.
However, prior experience with 'bad' networkers, those who strip mine or merely extract from others, have left a lingering sense of who they don't want to be. And that fear is getting in the way of their acting.
So, back to being a decent human being, all I ask you to do is to demonstrate care and concern for others. Acknowledging internally that a person, much like yourself, may also face challenges and struggles in their work and their life outside work should guide your actions.
With that in mind here are three simple things to remember that will help you feel like you are being a decent human being as you approach your networking.
Remember that you don’t actually know how close someone is to a connection. When you approach them to request that they make an introduction you should allow for the possibility that it might not be possible for them to do. Oftentimes you will see two people who are connected on LinkedIn and make some leaps about the nature of that relationship. It is entirely possible that a connection I have is someone I have met once, but barely know OR is someone who I can reach out to infrequently and perhaps in only certain contexts OR though we share the same employer or school isn’t someone I’ve met at all. Please, when you make that request for an introduction of some recognize that and add a sentence fragment like: "if you feel comfortable making the connection..." or "I'm not sure how well you know X, but...". In addition, part of that care is not expecting them to make an introduction immediately but asking if they might be able to do so in a reasonable amount of time. These are small efforts that can make the request seem more thoughtful.
Remember that humans don’t like to feel used. Don't just reach out when you need something. There are some folks in my professional life who chiefly show up when they want something. Sometimes it can be years between notes which are almost always requests for access to something or someone. You will be more successful if you develop a relationship where you don’t always show up with your hands open seeking something. I’ve many colleagues who’ve shared with me that they stop engaging with those who only show with a big ask. It isn’t that they need something in return, it is just that you feel like this person sees you as a person and wants to engage about your life.
Remember that humans like to see others showing care or concern for their wellbeing. I’ve written in the past about the importance of generosity in our careers. This is supremely manifested when it comes to networking. Networking has a reputation of being the most selfish of acts, but it really doesn’t have to be. In fact, I would argue that it can be a great opportunity to demonstrate the opposite. The best way to do this is to ask the individual what challenges they are experiencing or what resources they need. Taking an earnest interest in their well-being which also means following up with them about any shifts or changes in what had been challenging or thinking of them when compelling opportunities that can help them arise.
And while we are about treating those you network with like humans, please don't forget to do the same to yourself. We all need help sometimes no matter how smart or accomplished we are in the world. Knowing when to ask others for help is a sign of your brilliance. Give yourself permission to do so in the future and work on being kinder when asking.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.