Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
By Dawn Graham
A recent headline in the Harvard Business Review stated, “Professional Networking Makes People Feel Dirty,” so if you’ve ever experienced this reaction when requesting help, you’re not alone. But, when digging more deeply into the data, the researchers learned that this effect was primarily experienced by individuals who identified as “lower power” in the relationship. In other words, those who felt grubby after networking believed that they didn’t have anything of value to offer the person they were asking for help.
This a common phenomenon, and one that causes many to avoid networking altogether in their careers, despite the overwhelming evidence that supports the importance of networking as a key factor of success. And it’s true – the spirit of networking is building a mutually beneficial relationships, so it makes sense why you would feel “icky” if you are constantly taking from others and all of your relationships are one-sided.
But you likely have more to offer than you think, which may help ease your anxiety about reaching out to new contacts. In fact, the study referenced in HBR found that those individuals who networked while believing they also had something to offer didn’t experience the negative effect of feeling “dirty” post-networking, which suggests that approaching networking from a more reciprocal standpoint is the secret to feeling positive about it.
This is good news for hesitant networkers! Here are simple ideas on how you can invest in those you ask for help to balance the playing field:
- Follow, like and share their content. Many thought leaders you reach out to will be on social media – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or others – sharing content related to their fields. This information is created with you in mind and designed to help answer many of the questions you may be wondering about – start here. Learn as much as you can about your contact before engaging so your questions are related to content they are uniquely qualified to speak about.
- Register for their webinar, purchase their eBook, or sign up for their newsletter. As professionals progress in their careers, they often build their brand by sharing their expertise in a variety of mediums. A little digging online may turn up media interviews, YouTube content or press releases. Investing a little time or money into supporting someone’s hard work will win you points when you ask for a favor. Plus, it may enable you to ask more insightful questions.
- Attend an event or conference where they’re speaking. One way to give back is to simply make it easy for your network contacts to connect with you by making an effort to attend their speaking engagement, panel discussion or quarterly industry meeting. While it may be tough to have a meaningful conversation while several others are milling around, you can politely make your presence known and then Linked In after the event. A simple, “Thank you – I really enjoyed your talk” before you leave, followed by an equally gracious, personalized LinkedIn invite will plant the seed to the next step in your networking relationship. As they say, sometimes just showing up is half the battle.
- Offer a review or testimonial of their work. This can be in the form of a LinkedIn endorsement or recommendation (if appropriate), a detailed comment on an online article or posting, or a review of their class, video content, podcast, book or other publication. At a minimum, review their online content on social media to learn about their projects, accomplishments, investments or interests. Investing in understanding a person before reaching out shows you’re willing to take the extra step to be thoughtful in your approach and not waste his or her time. And, it’s painfully obvious to your contact when you skip this step, which may leave a negative impression.
- Introduce others to their profile, work, or content. Sometimes you may not be able to directly help your contacts, but you know of others who might be able to. Making a thoughtful introduction can be mutually beneficial, and a fantastic way to become a link between two networking circles. Just be sure to check with both parties first.
If this is new to you, it may still feel a little uncomfortable. However, your fear is a usually a good guidepost for where to push forward . For example, some worry that online research makes you look like a cyber stalker to contacts, when this is rarely the case. In fact, why would people post all of this information if they didn’t want others to look at it?
It’s easy to talk yourself out of networking, especially when it means reaching out to someone new and potentially getting rejected. However, if you do nothing, you usually get nothing, so why not take your chances?
The world has changed and technology has given everyone the power to be more connected and support the efforts of others, which means that there are no longer reasons to feel that you don’t have the power to give back (or better, invest first!) when you reach out to ask for help. This is the true spirit of networking.