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Professional Networking: How To Wreck Your Network In One Quick Step
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Professional Networking: How To Wreck Your Network In One Quick Step - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: How To Wreck Your Network In One Quick Step

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: How To Wreck Your Network In One Quick Step

“It began with social niceties,” says Karlee, a prominent California blogger about a recent instant-message exchange, “and then quickly led to a suggestion that we get together to get caught up. We hadn’t been in touch in years, and this acquaintance sounded genuinely interested in hearing all about the birth of my son. But as we tossed a few possible dates around, she threw in, as if she’d just remembered, ‘Oh yeah, and I’m launching a new venture. I was hoping I could pick your brain for a few social media strategies.’”

Instantly, the conversation ground to a halt. Karlee was disappointed and hurt by what she interpreted as a hustle, a professional connection disguised as a social connection. Karlee receives requests every week for access to her expertise and her extensive network of entertainers, activists, politicians, and media personalities, a group of friends she protects as a responsibility for the privilege of their trust. As soon as these weekly requests come in, she responds with a carefully worded email about how nice it is to hear from the requester, and how long it’s been since the last time the requester has reached out, followed by an explanation that “so-and-so is very busy, but you might be able to reach him through his publicist or website.” It’s a gentle but pointed reminder that networks are about the value you add, not the value you hope to extract.

But this IMer’s approach was new, and Karlee had let her guard down, believing for a few minutes that this contact didn’t want anything from her except to hear about the birth of her newborn son, or how her family was doing. “The request for business advice was like being hit while my back was turned,” she says, “and I felt betrayed. Is my friendship valuable only as far as it’ll give people an advantage in their business?”

Karlee’s story underlines an important aspect of a professional network: they aren’t merely a list of people you know. Karlee knows these cultural influencers, but she has access to them because she maintains relationships with them. Too many people who know Karlee think this means they’re connected to her and to her connections, although they reach out only when they need something from her. This is not networking; it’s taking for granted.

The worst consequence of these shoddy connections is what it does to us all as friends. Many of us, when we hear from someone we haven’t connected with in a while, immediately become suspicious, especially if the friend is known to run a little multi-level marketing on the side. We sit through the hi-how-are-yous, giving short, non-committal answers to what may be perfectly innocent, sincere questions, because we’re waiting for the, “Oh, while I have you on the line, I’d like to share an opportunity with you.” While everyone in the family loves cousin Natasha, everyone secretly hopes she’ll make other plans for New Year’s Eve because nobody wants to hear how much money they can make if they join her latest health shake regimen. Meanwhile, the thousand things that make Natasha a great, interesting person are forgotten because she’s always grinding, and our relationship with her gradually erodes into a wistful memory.

Your network is only as strong as the value you add to it. If your interactions are motivated by the value you receive, you will find your connections weakening and then breaking. This is not to suggest that you should fake an interest in other people’s lives--Karlee’s story shows us how this can be even more damaging than being a straight-up taker. Rather, it suggests that solid relationships come first, and networks emerge from them. The quickest way to wrecking your network is to neglect those relationships.

 

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Professional Networking: How To Wreck Your Network In One Quick Step - Executive Leadership Articles

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