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Professional Networking: Talk To Everyone
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Professional Networking: Talk To Everyone - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Talk To Everyone

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Talk To Everyone

We’ve covered a lot of territory in this space about professional networking, even at times offering contradictory viewpoints for the sake of discussion. Through it all, two themes have remained consistent: first, networking is about relationships, not collections of names and numbers. Second, networking is about offering yourself to others. There are multiple approaches to the first—some emphasize quality over quantity, while others acknowledge that although less depth is the sacrifice for a wider reach, today’s online networking tools allow for good maintenance of larger networks. However, that second theme leaves very little room wiggle room, because although there are many people who can wring from their networks what they need without offering value in return, each time they do, they drain a little bit of goodwill from the pool they’ve somehow managed to collect, weakening their networks with every requested favor. This is also why a fair trade approach ultimately doesn’t work either. If you value only mutually beneficial connections, you eventually find yourself connected only to others with the same mindset, and value is a crazily dynamic thing in the professional world. In equitable exchanges of value, no real goodwill is being built. Stagnant pools eventually evaporate.

We’ve all seen it: some newcomer with no discernable skills and no portfolio to speak of wades into the waters of our realm. She doesn’t know the lingo; she doesn’t get the references to prominent people in the field; she has no foundation of experience or study that would lead us to believe she’s swimming up the right stream. She has some charisma, but we’ve learned long ago not to put too much stock in personality without substance, so we exchange a few pleasantries and make an excuse to visit with someone else. A few years later, she’s in the acknowledgments section of a book we purchased because it was on Amazon’s best-of-the-year list, leading the way in some emerging branch of our field we never even saw coming, having lunch with the power players whose names she didn’t recognize when you dropped them at your first meeting.

This is a slightly exaggerated situation, but we have seen it played out in similar fashion to some degree, and it underscores the importance of paying attention to everyone wherever networking is taking place. This doesn’t mean a mad rush to shake hands with each person in attendance, which is neither effective nor practical. It does mean that if forces put you in conversation with someone, it’s worth a few minutes to figure out what the person has going on, beyond traditional metrics of networking worth. It’s not hard to discern the sincere from the phony, and you should of course move on from phonies with nary a second thought—but quirky personalities, thin resumes, and fishes-out-of-water, even if they rub you the wrong way, are worth paying attention to, worth extending your goodwill toward. You simply never know what someone is going to turn out to be, and your contribution to his or her development can be the injection of new life and energy every network needs from time to time. This feeds the weird-but-proven contradiction of receiving great benefit from networks in which we see ourselves first as contributors.

Talk to everyone. Not to offer your elevator pitch or to get your foot in some door. Not to boost some concept you have of social capital or presence. Not add to your collection. Talk to everyone because you never know where a real, meaningful connection with another human being will be made, or how that genuine connection can lead to blessings for your whole network.


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Professional Networking: Talk To Everyone - Executive Leadership Articles

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