A witty column from the genuine, emotional, and often humorous exploits of coaching executives in Silicon Valley.


Networking Best Practices: Always Give More Than You Take

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Learn how to dominate networking and build an unstoppable career with these tips on networking strategy and the power of reciprocation.

Ah, value. Such a subjective and over-hyped concept to bring up. I may as well have said empathy—it’s the gold standard, you hear? What is value anyway? And more importantly, what’s in it for me?

You see, I get value. I understand that you need substance right frickin now or I’ve lost the split-second of attention that I so carefully harvested from your day.

And why shouldn’t I earn your attention?

I’ve exclusively included you and 5000 other {first name} contacts with a well-manicured copy + paste recipe that warrants the highest click-through rate.

Sincerely, I understand that you’re busy, but I trust that you are well.

Jokes aside—let’s get into some damn value.

What’s In It For Them; What’s In It For Me?

Yikes. When you think about networking strategies and it dawns on you that networking often boils down to a perceived value exchange at some point in the future, it feels gross.

Why don’t people lend a hand to each other, just because? Does there always have to be a “value exchange?” Whatever happened to paying it forward? What if I always waste my time and give the value—and nobody ever gives me anything? What am I doing wrong?

Well, if you think about networking as a chore that you spin up when you need something—you’re wrong. The best networkers maintain consistency of effort in paying it forward. Networking comes naturally.

If you think about networking as currency to get what you want at the exact time you want it—you’re wrong. Networking takes time to build momentum.

And if you think about networking as a spray-and-pray cold outreach approach in a desperate attempt to get a warm body on the other end of the line—you’re very wrong. Also, stop that—from all of us.

So, what’s the right way to approach networking?

How Can I Best Serve You?

Servitude and generosity are the best things you can do to build your reputation and develop a powerful network.

Networking is about helping others reach their goals. More specifically, successful networking is about knowing the direct details on how you can best help others reach their goals.

The nuance of knowledge is important, because it will shift your networking strategy to focus on the right mindset.

Before reaching out to network, you must focus on the following:

(1) Do I know how to best serve you?

What can I offer you today—and in the future? What can I say that will increase the likelihood that you can’t say no? Can I do anything to help you get where you’re going, and faster? Do I know anyone that can help you?

(2) Research and connect.

You need to know exactly how to best serve someone (1) in order to earn the right to connect (2) as your only chance to rise above all of the muddy noise in networking.

You need to research to better understand what someone may find valuable.

They may enjoy a bottle of wine for the inconvenience of your interruption because you read a post about their love for viticulture. Or you may be able to make an introduction to a company or industry that they’re targeting. Or they may simply value a “shoptalk” conversation about the state of the industry.

Regardless, it’s your job to find out. Value doesn’t always mean financial incentive.

Word of caution. Don’t fall victim to a “I can be all things to all people” approach. It’s not value, it’s fake.

Notably, I ask that you stop pretending to support others with open-ended offers of help. This is lazy—and you get to feign giving a damn under the protective veil of doing the right thing.

For example, “Let me know what I can do for you.”

First, I don’t know what you can do, because I don’t know you—especially in regards to whatever I’m dealing with at this very moment. You can leave me alone, because I do find value in my time and you’re wasting it.

Second, the call to action is to “let me know.” So I’m supposed to think about you, continuously—and then remember that you offered me an open-ended favor? Hard pass.

Be specific.

For example, “You’re a Director of Product, would it be helpful if I connected you with a friend that’s a Director of Product at Facebook? I bet you two would have a lot to talk about. I can send an intro this week.”

This approach shows that you’re relevant.You’ve notably added a time stamp that inspires action. If they want a new connection at Facebook this week, then they best entertain a conversation with you. You can influence urgency in your networking by thinking about time sensitive values.

(3) Expect nothing.

That’s right. Surrender the outcome.

You must think only on what you can control. Be confident in yourself and the value you have to provide in any given conversation.

You cannot over analyze factors outside your control, become tiresome of menial networking activities, or devolve into frustration because people aren’t chomping at the bit to help you. Take your shot.

That means, your only takeaway is to follow (1) + (2) above.How can I serve? Research. Connect.

Your key performance indicator? The number of meaningful conversations that you have in a given period. Day, week, month, quarter—whatever your circumstances or urgency warrants.

The Psychology of Reciprocation

I hope that you’re disappointed. To this point, I’ve only put meat on the bone to get you to do all the damn work yourself.

Serve. Research. Connect. Thanks, Jacob—what’s the secret sauce? This is a lot of effort and I still can’t answer, “What’s in it for M-E—ME?!

Hol’ up! This week is actually a lesson in psychology—not networking.

And the focus is using the power of reciprocation to drive what’s in it for you.

Reciprocation is a powerful psychological tendency that is built into the underlying core of human nature. It’s when people feel the need to pay you back for what they received. It’s wired into our core cooperation triggers necessary for survival.

I’d argue that our hyper-competitive executive tendencies aren’t all that different from classic feudalism. Perhaps this triggers our fight-or-flight lizard brains in some manner and elicits our need to cooperate through communities and networks.

We need one another to survive.

The beauty of tapping into reciprocation is that our desire to return the favor is not necessarily in proportion to the benefit received in the first place.

One time, an acquaintance of mine took the time to take me to Chipotle when she heard that I was laid off. Eight years later I helped her secure a $300k/yr job as a VP of Marketing.

She probably doesn’t know how much that burrito meant to me. But she planted a psychological seed for me and a need to reciprocate. And I followed through.

I’m not suggesting coffee or intros—or lunch dates—will always work.

Hell, there’s likely a scientific correlation that the more value you can provide upfront, the more likely someone will feel the need to reciprocate.

(I once had a c-suite client give hot tech CEOs and their spouses reservations to the French Laundry just for the opportunity to meet with them for one hour.)

But even the innocuous efforts you make to provide value can make a compounding impact. If you surrender the outcome, you may be surprised by what comes back around.

What can you do, right now, to better serve your network?

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