The biggest networking mistake we’re making

glassball

At its best, networking is an intentional, genuine and organic path to connect, get to know each other and deepen our relationships.

At its worst, it’s contrived, manipulative and off-putting.

I can see your head nodding. You’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of networking, haven’t you? You know what it feels, sounds and looks like. You can smell that insincerity from a mile away.

But what if it’s not just others? What if you and I inadvertently do this too?

What if it’s as simple and well meaning as the words, “How can I help?”

I recently had an interaction with a well meaning “helper” which made me reevaluate those 4 little words – How can I help?

It started with a seemingly nice email from an old business contact. “How are you? How is the family? What are you working on? How can I be of help?”

Not bad, right? I’m sure I’ve sent similar notes. You probably have too. Good example of keeping in touch. Networking. Give-to-get.

I couldn’t be sure if his intent was similar to what mine would be in sending something like that. Maybe it was a genuine interest in me, and genuine desire to help, or maybe it was part of a networking strategy to reach out to a few contacts every day. There was only one to find out. And since I trusted his goodness and integrity, I decided to stifle my natural inclination to just quickly exchange pleasantries and move on with my day. I decided to actually answer his question, to see what might happen.

“Hey, it’s so great to hear from you! Thanks for reaching out. I’m doing well. Family is great. Continuing to build my business. So touched that you asked how you can help. You know how hard it is for me to put down my superhero cape and ever ask for help, but since you were kind enough to ask, here are a few ways…”

His response?

“Haha. I want those things too!”

Hmm. Did I say something funny to warrant the haha? Or was that nervous laughter in reaction to realizing that he just stumbled into an uncomfortable situation? The conversation ended there. Mission accomplished? Did he connect with me in a meaningful way and deepen the relationship?

Not quite.

And here’s the particularly painful part of that story… realizing that I’ve been on the initiating end of that unfruitful awkwardness. More times than I care to recall!

With really good intentions, yes. But achieving the exact opposite of what I wanted. Maybe you’ve been there too?

A few hours after the above exchange, I was reading an article by one of my favorite business authors who was encouraging people to reach out to 5 contacts every day and offer to help.

Here we go again, I thought. More good intentions. More well meaning advice. Might even work for some. But for most of us?

No. I don’t think so.

Why? Because there are many more reasons why this strategy will fail than succeed.

It will only succeed when… stars are perfectly aligned. When the recipient of the message is open to being honest/vulnerable with you and asking you for help. When your sincerity to help matches your ability to help. When the ask is relatively easy.

And it will fail… well, most of the time. Because the recipient won’t be open to it. Because it’s hard to ask for help. Because he/she won’t believe your sincerity (most of us have already had a bad experience with “how can I help?”). Because you probably can’t/won’t help.

“But wait!…” I hear you thinking. “I really do want to help!  I really will do everything in my power!…”

I know. I know. Me too.

So here’s what I propose for people like us. Let’s:

  1. Be choosy. Practice the A, B, C’s. Let’s know who our A-level, B-level and C-level connections are. And try to be helpful at the right levels.
  2. Be proactive. Let’s think about what we already know about the people we’d like to help. What do they do? What do they sell? What would they really appreciate? A referral of business? An influential connection? A helpful tool? An inspiring book?
  3. Be personal. Let’s think about what we know about the people we’d like to help, thank or connect with. What do they enjoy doing, watching, practicing, eating or drinking? We probably already know something that we could send them that would make their day. That. Let’s do that.
  4. Be sincerely curious. Let’s reach out with specific questions. Instead of the generic “how can I be of help?,” let’s dig a little deeper to come up with something that won’t be so easily dismissed as generic networking. Maybe mention a recent LinkedIn post or article written. Maybe mention a previous business focus. Maybe mention former clients or prospects. And then ask, “Is this who/what you’re still looking for? Should I refer folks like this your way? Or something else?”
  5. Be sincerely helpful. One of my favorite questions to ask is: “As I walk through the world, who or what can I send your way that would make your life easier or better?” And then work very hard to find those resources. Warning: I’ve learned the hard way that asking that question will usually add some to-do’s (often some challenging to-do’s) to my list, so I ask it much more selectively now.

That’s it. Just those 5 things.

Choosy. Proactive. Personal. Curious. Helpful.

If we can aim for those 5 things, we’ll do a much better job of connecting, deepening our relationships and being the kind of sincerely helpful people that we aim to be.

This is important year-round, but especially during this season of gratitude, giving and connecting. Let’s do it better.

Featured On

featured on tv

Testimonials

Irina has a gift that few have – the ability to truly listen. She has an innate ability to respond to a client’s needs almost imperceptibly. She could tell immediately what kind of mood I was in, where my mind was and what I wanted and needed to focus on.
C.S., Writer
I had no idea how much I would benefit from coaching with Irina. Not only has my business improved, but I am a better husband, father and happier man, as a result of our work together. Her wisdom, support and consistent pushing in the right direction gave me exactly what I needed to reach my goals and create more balance, confidence and success. This is one of the best investments I have ever made. The ROI far exceeded my expectations!
R.F., Management Consultant
Irina is a soul-stirrer. She uses her coaching talents to motivate, inspire and support. She is genuine and generous – pure love. Cannot thank her enough…
A.W., Television News Anchor
Irina has truly helped me change my perspective and my approach to work and life. I have come to fully embrace the reality that I am the captain of my own ship and am now confidently charting a positive course forward. I really appreciated Irina’s warm, supportive, yet honest and assertive approach. I felt I was in very good hands throughout my time with her, and was able to quickly establish a deep level of trust with her. I highly recommend her as a coach!
T.D., Administration Director
Irina completely changed my life. She sets such high expectations for her clients that you won’t want to let her – or yourself – down. She opened me up to new perspectives, challenged me, and held me accountable until I started to take steps to live more intentionally. Thanks to Irina, I have gained such momentum that I will never stop!
J.L., Administrator
Irina’s upbeat personality is contagious. She’s smart and creative with her coaching, and expertly moves from playful to serious, with great results.
L.W., Pharmaceutical Sales Director
I’m finally understanding what I want and going after it! I feel empowered and productive in a way that I haven’t for a really long time. Thank you!!!
K.G., Healthcare executive
The skills I learned with Irina will be invaluable in nearly all aspects of my life, and I wish I had thought to engage in the process before things got out of control. Bottom line: no matter where you are or what’s going on, working with Irina will help you be more deliberate and empower you with the skills of resiliency, compassion and honesty you’ll need when life throws you for a loop.
I.M., Director & VP, Higher Education
More balance, more confidence, more financial success and better relationships… I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you!
J.T., VP of Financial Services Firm
Blowjob