BY: Patrick D. Goonan
If you have an address book in any form, you have a network. Another word for a network or a market is a community. How you choose to nurture your connections is a choice and one that has implications to the people that you serve and with respect to having your own needs met.. In other words, you can get what you want, if you help enough other people get what they want!
In this article, I want to turn some of the unconscious assumptions and conventional knowledge of what networking is upside down. We will do this by taking a look at how things are usually done, how they might be done and making the process of networking fun and rewarding for all parties. This is to say that I want to help you to make networking a win-win proposition for all the players. Therefore, I want to assert up front that I do not hold networking to be a form of manipulation, arm twisting or anything unpleasant.
Networking is about forming, nurturing and sustaining meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. Earlier, I talked about a network as a community. This word has implications of belonging, caring and participation in both directions. In this context, giving is as important as receiving. Further, you as a node in your network are a source of knowledge, wisdom, certain skills, etc.
In other words, you are a giver as well as a receiver. However, my suggestion is to put giving ahead of receiving. By asking yourself what do I have to give and to whom – you are taking a stance of abundance and power. If you focus on the receiving components, it’s as if you inhabit a scarcity mentality. Your orientation toward your network will be tinged with greed and expending effort to get. This is a recipe for exhaustion, resentment and can easily cross over into manipulation.
What we want to create instead is a mutually beneficial reciprocal relationship and the way to get that moving is to give first! So, now we have reframed a network as a community and our attitude as one of giving. The next logical question is to whom shall I give first and what do I have to offer? By answering this question, you focus your efforts where there is the highest potential return on investment.
Here, I would let the 80/20 rule be your guide. The 80/20 rule states that in a prioritized “to do” list of 10 items, 80% of the value will be derived by focusing on achieving the top two things on the list. Similarly, if you have a list of customers then 80% of the referrals will come from 20% of the clients just as the top several stocks in a portfolio will have the highest return on investment, etc. Therefore, instead of being overwhelmed by your number of contacts, concentrate most of your effort on the ones that you can most help and that can most help you. In general, they are usually the same. This is the place to start if you have limited time or to create initial momentum.
Once you have identified these top 20% of high value contacts, block out time to touch bases regularly, extend your help, etc. Once you get moving, other ideas will occur to you and the cycle of engagement will become self-perpetuating. If there are people in this list who you don’t generally admire, feel a sense of community with or have ambivalence toward, cross these people off.
You are better off focusing your effort narrowly than trying to please people who you are not naturally drawn to. Also, if there is a gross value conflict, this may be like having a cancer cell in your body. Once you have done the exercise above, ask yourself how can I help these people right now, brighten their day or make their life a little better. The things most people seek are often free and easy to give – sincere appreciation, demonstrating concern, remembering a birthday, being interested in their life, etc.
What can you do right now to help meet one of their specific needs or a more general life need? By reaching out with this intention, you are demonstrating that you care. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that people don’t really care about how much you know, until they know how much you care! When you have built this type of foundation, then trust and goodwill are built-in and positive energy flows throughout the system.
When you have reached out first, offered something without hooks and built trust, then you have earned the right to make a request. If your real orientation is toward giving, then when you do need something, it won’t feel uncomfortable asking for help. This attitude is characterized by a “we” mentality, WE are in this world, macroeconomic or work situation together. This type of energy can move mountains, do not underestimate it.
The implication of all of this is that you will work with your network regularly as a service before you need anything. Networking is NOT an activity that you do when you have a special need. It’s ongoing like brushing your teeth everyday or taking a shower. If you have this type of stance toward networking, it helps ingrain the giving habit without an expectation of any result. Paradoxically, this results in the highest possible leverage among your adopted community. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you put it to the test.
Now, what about the other side of the equation? How do I get what I need? The answer here is by asking for something specific, which can be accomplished within a fixed time frame and that feels legitimate and justified. The last two points are important because you don’t want to ask people things that you can do for yourself and that you don’t feel good about following up on later. This last point is critical, despite people’s good intentions you will have to follow up and you must let people know that you are going do this.
As much as we wish people were most concerned about helping us get what we want, more typically they are focused on their own survival and we need to help them to remember what they committed to. Another caveat of the principle above, is the assumption that you would not ask of anyone anything that you wouldn’t freely give yourself. If you operate from a different emotional stance then you will be out of integrity and your actions will be contaminated by this inner conflict.
In my experience, most people can feel tainted intention and your efforts at networking may backfire. Your goal is to help create a world where everyone wins. Therefore, when you ask something of your network, you must plan on following up on a specific date and provide people with feedback and rewards for helping you. One of the rewards of helping you is sharing your internal experience of what that means to you upfront and at the time of their follow through.
In our society, we tend to undervalue feeling, but in reality e-motion is what moves us into action. Why do we go to a movie, to feel the world differently. Why do we buy one car vs. another? You know what I mean, the principle is used again and again in advertising. Make it work to your advantage, find out what people want and give it to them!
By now, you have a good idea what you need to do, what attitude you must have and the first steps to take. What else is important and how does this fit with the integral model? The next part of this article will address these questions.
According to the integral model, there are four areas or quadrants you need to pay attention to: the internal and external of the individual and the internal and external of the collective. In other words, your own interior, the realm of your exterior or more simply, your observable behavior, the systems that you participate in and the internal dimension of those systems which is to say your culture or shared values, assumptions, beliefs, etc. If you are unfamiliar with integral theory, please read my introductory article, but here is the essence of the concept in one diagram: From the highest level perspective, what we are trying to do is to take advantage of and exercise all of our capacities in each of these domains. Above, I focused on your intentions (individual interior), your specific actions (individual exterior) for example when making requests of your community (exterior of collective or systems) and how you hold that community in your heart (shared values or culture).
Now, we will just get more conscious about the dynamics and attach specific practices that focus on the synergy between quadrants. This is largely a personal affair, but I do have some suggestions. I will approach each of these in turn.
In the first quadrant, you need to be clear on your intentions, values, beliefs, expectations and what you are willing to give and hope to get. When you move into action, your behavior needs to be aligned with your intentions and you must feel good about what you are doing. What I recommend here is some deep inquiry and a written dedication with respect to how you will use your network and the boundaries you are not willing to cross in the direction of giving or receiving. This will help clarify your purpose and direction.
The next most important quadrant to focus on is the upper right or your observable behavior. Here, you must identify the “HOW” you will give, what you might ask for and how you will measure your efforts in terms of specific goals. What you don’t measure, you can’t manage, therefore, it important to know what you as an individual are willing to do.
I put the two individual quadrants first because it is in these quadrants that you have the most control. You are the master of your internal states and external behavior. The other quadrants you can influence, but that influence is not as direct.
In the systems dimension, which is the external of the collective, you need to have practices associated with taking care of your network as a whole. You might think of this as a type of ecology with respect to people. In other words, to keep the collective happy, vibrant and receptive, I need to touch bases with individual at least x times per year, share information regularly, attend to the principles of good collaboration, etc. Here, you may want to draw on other marketing, sales, social and conflict resolution resources.
There is a whole science around how social systems work, take advantage of it, but at the same time personalize the principles and make them your own. This is where you get a chance to integrate what you know and decide on where to invest your time and energy according to your unique talents, disposition, etc.
In the cultural quadrant, we are dealing with shared values, beliefs, etc. Therefore, we are focused on shared meaning. Again, we need to make this more conscious. For example, why is a person in your network in the first place? Obviously, they are in the same profession, have the same skills or we feel some personal affinity toward them. If we didn’t have something in common with them, they hopefully, wouldn’t be in the network in the first place. Identify what these factors of commonality are and when you write to a group, share information, etc. do it with these things in mind.
In other words, when you fish you don’t put jelly donuts on the end of the line because fish prefer worms. You need to put yourself in the place of the fish in order to know what your community wants. Getting this in writing and thinking deeply about it helps you to provide that which will be most useful to your tribe as it were.
If you want the maximum return from your network, you need to focus on all of these domains and not privilege one over the other. You need commitments to specific measurable goals and a willingness to follow through. You must be aware of the individuals as unique entities, but also to various groups, group needs and dynamics between people. You must also understand the shared values, beliefs and assumptions each subsystem within your group holds and to be mindful of how you show up within the group, make requests, etc.
Of course, you must also be aware of your relationship to the whole and how everything hangs together including the tide of giving and receiving. Lastly, I want to explicitly mention the intersubjective nature of the collectives (WE).
When we engage another human being or group in a sincere and authentic manner with love and concern, something greater than the sum of the mere individuals arises. If this wasn’t so, groups wouldn’t have evolved in the first place. It is in defining how to amplify the effects of the collective energy that we really take advantage of synergy. This is to say that now, one plus one is greater than two. If you are aware of and grateful for this dimension of social cooperation, networking will be fun and you will paradoxically feel both an increased sense of belonging and autonomy.
As the French existential philosopher Gabriel Marcel said, “to be is to be with.” Somehow as humans, we become more fully human an individuated when we participate in social systems in a healthy way. It is my hope that this article has given you some ideas as to how you can do that in a way that helps others and serves your needs in an atmosphere of respect and compassion. If you focus only on other people as a means to get what you want, you are objectifying them and making them less human in the process. You may not feel it right away, but somehow you are also gutting your own interior to some extent.
As always, I welcome your insights and comments. When people provide feedback, other people read and benefit. In this sense, I extend the invitation to you to add to the pool of shared meaning where my efforts plus yours are greater than the mere sum of each of our contributions. In other words, I invite you to become a part of my network where we can lift each other up and in the process evoke insights that are greater than either of us would have thought of on our own. In this way, we can all become more of who we are as individuals and as citizens of our shared world.