By Ray. B. Williams and Darcy Rezac
It has often been said that your network is your net worth. It can be your greatest asset in developing a successful career and social life. But what is more important, you are in service to others. All too often, people define networking, as a transactional relationship--when you connect other people together, you expect to be repaid in some form for it. In fact, the phrase, "you owe me one" is often heard.
If you've ever had a business contact or friend introduce you to someone, then they immediately expect you to repay them, you've probably experience a sense of obligation or even resentment. This is brokering, not networking. In Darcy Rezac's book, The Frog and the Prince and his most recent book, Work The Pond! ( Prentice Hall) he turns this concept on its head by championing an ethos called Positive Networking®. It's discovering what you can do for someone else. In other words, networking is not about you and how others can help you. Instead, it's about others, and how you can help them.
Why do it? Because it stops the hard sell from happening, it takes all the pressure off individuals. Now, they don't have to go to a networking event and sell themselves. But most importantly, it's about the relationships and reputation you want to build in your community as a connector who people trust, respect and like.
Probably nothing is more important than the likeability factor, a term popularized by Tim Sanders, author of Saving the World of Work, Love Is A Killer App, and The Likability Factor. Sanders and Rezac both share the view that giving generously of your knowledge and contacts, without expectation of anything in return is the smartest business strategy. It builds trust, respect, relationships and reputation, for business and life.
Why is this a particularly good business strategy these days? Two reasons: it costs nothing to give of your knowledge and network, and there will-more likely than not-be times you will have to call on your network to help you. They will know that you will do the same for them. This is the power of a network; Rezac says, "it's always on."
So what are these things that you can do for others? It's the person you meet at an event whose business card you take, and then the next day call to connect them with someone they should meet. It's the email you send to share some information that is valuable or interesting to the other party. It's the invitation to lunch to a friend who has lost their job. It's the handwritten note to a colleague or acquaintance that has received an award, a promotion or a special milestone. It's rescuing a wallflower at an event. It's opening the circle when someone joins your group. It's inviting new people into your network and sharing information and your connections.
Try this: Host a networking lunch where at least three people are invited who, in your opinion, would have some mutual interests, and where you have no agenda to advance yourself or your interests. If you did that once a week for even half the year, that's 75 people you've generously brought together. This is how good networks are. Ironically, the best way to develop, nurture and cultivate a network is through the generosity of giving it away.
Darcy Rezac is Managing Director and Chief Engagement Officer of the Vancouver Board of Trade, and CEO of the Rix Center for Corporate Citizenship & Engaged Leadership and author of Work The Pond!