I came across a wonderful piece in Entrepreneur today that persuasively casts professional networking as a ‘contact sport’ based on thoughtful engagement with people on a deeper level – that is, building relationships vs. expanding the rolodex. This got me thinking about the idea of creating professional value for oneself and others, and how it’s often easy to see networking as a zero-sum either/or game. ‘Either I keep the upper hand and draw value from this contact, or they exploit my resources and take advantage of me.’ This leads to a very transactional, tit-for-tat sort of relationship management. I’ve been guilty of this thinking at times and am pretty sure that others have too.
What about an alternative view: that in adding value to a person’s professional life, I add value to my own. Obviously we want to avoid situations of pure exploitation where others are taking advantage of our support and giving zero in return. In my opinion, though, even a small imbalance in a handful of our business relationships will probably even out in the end. I’d rather be known as the guy who’s supremely helpful at connecting and supporting people professionally than the one who does just enough to stay civil and maintain good optics.
Interested in others’ views on this: am I being overly naïve and Pollyanna-ish? Is successful networking based on keeping a dominant hand in business relationships? Feel free to weigh-in on the comments thread below!