There is a patient way and an expedient way. There is a generous way and a self-serving way. So how do you know if you're doing networking all wrong?
It's not wrong to want more influence, to reach out and serve your way into more relationships. It is, however, bad to go about it the wrong way.
There is a proper etiquette to making connections, and it has nothing to do with which fork you use to eat your meal. It does, however, have everything to do with treating people like human beings.
When Augustine became bishop of northern Africa, he wept. This is the right response for anyone who steps into a position of influence. It demonstrates that your heart is postured correctly.
A real leader knows his influence is not about him; it's not a personal platform. It's a burden, an obligation. So many people seek influence without understanding this. They want a soap box. They want to be popular.
This is not how it works. Really good networking is about humility and serving others. Everything else is just sleazy and, not surprisingly, less effective.
Bad networking etiquette
Here are some indicators that you're doing networking all wrong:
- When you meet someone new, you talk more about yourself than you ask questions.
- You ask for favors more than you offer them.
- You comment on other people's blogs only to get others to read your blog.
- Your last five tweets were about you.
- You haven't picked up the phone to connect with someone new in over a month.
- You find yourself getting jealous at others' success.
- You try to get influencers to pity you instead of wooing them.
- You put yourself down in the company of others.
- No one asks for your business card or contact info… ever. (You didn't ask for anyone's, either.)
- The only way you can grab people's attention is by awkwardly forcing yourself into a conversation.
The paradox of influence is that those who have it can easily get more, and those that lack it struggle to gain momentum.
The same can be said for friendship. Those who need friends struggle to find them, and those that can make friends have an abundance of them.
Why is gaining influence so hard?
Because nobody wants to be friends with someone who doesn't believe in herself. Nobody wants to be the one to keep giving you a pep talk. Eventually, everyone gets tired of that.
People want to hang out with those who are fun and confident and interesting. They like people that other people like. What do you do? You have two options:
- Fake it. This works for some people. They fake confidence long enough that they begin to believe it about themselves. I'm not a fan of dishonesty or bravado, so I forgo this option, but that's just me. I'll leave this to your conscience.
- Do something epic. Instead of trying to network, you could stop. You could focus all that frustrated energy on doing something worth talking about, on creating. People naturally gravitate to others who are doing remarkable things. It's not hard; it just takes time and focus.
Look, nobody's perfect. We all struggle with being self-centered or awkward on occasion. What I know is this: people who are incredible at networking do the following:
- Ask thoughtful questions.
- Show sincere interest in others.
- Remember people's names and stories.
- Genuinely want other people to succeed.
- Celebrate their friends' achievements over their own.
I'm not saying you need to be over-confident, arrogant jerk. In fact, I'm saying the opposite.
Be humble. Show interest in others. Seek influence for the sake of making people's lives better. Don't focus on yourself. Be like Augustine. Resist choosing positional authority until it chooses you.
In the mean time, try creating really epic stuff, and see whose attention you capture.