Networking can often feel shallow, calculated and like using people as a means to an end. A better approach is to lead with giving rather than taking. Learn why generosity is the key to effective networking and how you can apply this principle in your networking strategy to add value in your interactions. (Estimated reading time: 5 minutes)
“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”— Keith Ferrazzi
When you think of the word ‘networking’, what image comes to your mind?
Do you see yourself darting around a room, shaking people’s hands, exchanging business cards and giving quick pitches?
Or do you picture yourself holding a cocktail glass as you saunter around a fancy soiree in a regal gown (or tux), engaged in friendly banter and pleasantries?
I was never entirely comfortable with immersing myself in those sorts of situations. Not because I lacked the social skills, but because the idea of engaging strangers in small talk with the prime motive of upward mobility seemed superficial and opportunistic to me.
But, I knew that being reclusive and avoiding events where I could make beneficial associations would be a big mistake. Today, success is increasingly dependent on the quality of our personal connections. Social capital is the new currency that’s essential to us getting ahead.
As a member of the social economy, you have something to offer the people around you, and they have something to offer in return. You don’t have to be in a high-ranking job or born into a well-established family to have high social capital. Anyone can build a network from the ground up by providing value in the form of time, knowledge, skills, and emotional support.
Realizing the importance of networking, I tried to seek out a humane approach – one that does not involve exploiting others for my own, selfish gain. I wanted to build win-win relationships that added value. That’s when I stumbled on the work of business coach and networking expert, Keith Ferrazzi, who believes that the key to networking is to lead from a place of service.
Ferrazzi says that “in order to be a great networker, you have to come from a place of generosity. Paradoxically, being instrumental in other people’s success will bolster your prospects as well. Don’t keep score: It’s never simply about getting what you want. It’s about getting what you want and making sure that the people who are significant to you get what they want, too.”
It’s also essential to view networking as relationship building. Instead of being a business card hoarder who’s only interested in short-term connections with immediate benefits, you must shift your focus to creating long-term relationships, without any agenda and expectations. If you encounter someone interesting at a conference, meet them for coffee later, just to get to know them.
By being curious and open to others, you’ll have the chance to understand what matters most to them and how you can share your social capital. Ultimately, effective networking is not about serving yourself but finding ways to serve others. Instead of asking “what’s in it for me?” ask yourself “how can I help this person?” This will instantly shift the dynamic in your connections.
Although we live in a dog-eat-dog world, where we assume that the people who rise to the top are the ones who network with a self-serving strategy, new evidence shows that this isn’t the case. The people who achieve professional and social success are the ones who are the most generous. Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, identifies these individuals as ‘givers’.
Grant writes that “takers have a distinctive signature, they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others needs. By contrast, givers tilt reciprocity in their direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused – givers are others focused.”
These findings clearly establish the critical role that our personal interactions play when it comes to our likelihood of success.
Here are four reasons why leading with generosity is the key to effective networking and personal fulfillment:
1. You’ll increase your social intelligence: Social intelligence, also known as ‘people skills’, is the ability to get along with others and get them to cooperate with you. Our social intelligence develops when we understand people’s character and motivations better. The practice of generosity requires us to be curious and ask insightful questions, to get more clued into the needs of the people that we meet. We shift our focus from pushing our own agenda onto others to a humanistic approach – one built on helping others by gaining deeper insight into their nature.
2. You build deeper and high-quality connections: When it comes to networking, quality always trumps quantity. When you lead from a place of generosity, allowing others to speak up and listening to them with an open mind, you’re likely to gain people’s trust and allegiance. Cultivating relationships with sensitivity and care is a surefire way to develop sincere and genuine ties. People will intuitively pick up on your sincerity and feel comfortable around you.
3. The good vibes will eventually come back to you: We’re all familiar with the forces of Karma – what goes around will come back around. Whether or not people reciprocate your generous deeds and acts of kindness, you can be sure that good karma has been set into motion. When you give to others, and you do it from a place of abundance, you’ll attract energies that match this vibration. Research has shown that aside from attracting good vibes, generosity has positive effects on your physical health and may also increase your lifespan.
4. Your network will become rich and varied: Generosity is a natural confidence booster, and it will, therefore, give you an edge over other networkers who are ‘takers’. Because of your genuine desire to be of service to others, you stand a much better chance of overcoming those common networking challenges such as bypassing gatekeepers and gaining the trust of high-profile contacts who are generally guarded about people asking them for favors. Taking the time to cultivate relationships by being generous with your time and expertise will propel you into all kinds of circles, and open doors that would normally be closed to you.
Generosity doesn’t require you to write fat paychecks, give fancy gifts, or even be a bootlicker. Something as simple as emailing a useful article, making an introduction, or buying a latte for someone is just as effective. What matters is the intention behind your act of generosity – if it’s sourced from a place of authenticity and dignity, you’re on the right track!
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: What is your approach towards networking and what kind of results have you experienced with it?
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Nikki Jennings says
Hi Seline! As someone who has worked in multiple careers over my lifetime that relied on networks and having a strong team and references and resources to tap into I can say this post is 100% correct. You have to network to survive in today’s world but you have to know how to network in a smart and efficient way or it is going to take all of your energy just to keep up with the networking opportunities and maintaining those relationships!
You have to give of yourself and be willing to give a little to meet the wants and needs of your other side or the networking will never work out!
Keep up up the great work!
Andrea Squires says
Thank you for this article. I’ve always dreaded networking because I was shy, and it always felt like asking strangers for favors. I see now that I’ve actually been networking just by being nice to people, working that extra hour, supporting them in a fundraising event, and lots of other ways. You’ve changed my whole approach to business networking. I appreciate the time and effort that went into this article. Peace, Andrea
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andrea. 🙂