Networking is time tested and familiar, an age-old practice dressed up in a modern outfit. This current incarnation of networking emphasizes the scavenger hunt of meeting as many people as possible and seems to have lost or minimized the traditional play on reciprocity. The result – hundreds of business cards, LinkedIn and Facebook contacts.
At business or social events we mingle until meeting the right person. It sounds brilliant in theory, but feels awkward in practice. It is impolite to break off a new conversation, even though we may quickly be aware that there is little in common. And finding that person with matching interests may require a lot of hand shaking and introductions. For the networking to feel successful we need a key ingredient: reciprocity for mutually beneficial interactions.
One-sided value is limited. Reciprocity opens a variety of doors and potential. Here is how it works.
Put Yourself in their Shoes
Presumably, you started talking to a person because of what you think they may be able to do for you, not because you like their jacket. However, if you go into a new interaction focused on, “What can this person do for me?” you are likely to hit a wall of silence. So what can you do differently?
Reverse the roles and learn more about their situation. Are they an employer searching for the right candidate to fill a position? A future customer with an issue that your company already solves? Instead of leading with what you want, uncover what you can do for them.
Reciprocity is an unspoken social agreement where people intuitively repay, in kind, what other people have done for them. By virtue of the reciprocity social norm, people are self-motivated to repay kindness, favors, and invitations. If someone receives a good idea or referral during a networking event, a reciprocal expectation may influence them to do the same. This encourages continuing exchanges and forms thoughtful connections.
Avoid pitching to everyone in the room just to see if something sticks. Instead build capital by adding value to ideas and projects.
Share Your Ideas
Too often people avoid exposing their ideas to the light. What if it is not ready? What if someone appropriates it? What if it is wasted on the wrong person or opportunity?
For starters, we never know for certain where that “real” opportunity is. If we did, we would be in front of it with our most polished pitch. The thing we are actively searching for may not look like what we expect. Perhaps it is a new idea or twist on our idea that sends us down a better road. If we hold back, not only is it the exact opposite of mutually beneficial, it is also a risky gamble that we will bypass someone who could have helped us out.
Settle in for the Long Game
Building mutually beneficial relationships includes developing trust. And that doesn’t grow over the course of two cocktails. New people need time to see whether your motivation and passion is an indicator of your day-to-day personality or just your current charm trying to win them over.
Success stories often start at the lucky moment people “ran into” one another, like the investor or the entrepreneur who took their company to the next level. What is rarely mentioned is the amount of time spent building a reputation or the legwork it took to get to that pivotal introduction.
Become an Expert and Always Be Ready
You may be familiar with that paradoxical piece of advice, “Practice improvisation”. Musical talents appear to come up with magical melodies spontaneously. And the story of almost every scientific discovery involves someone leaping up and racing out the door because the answer to a problem suddenly hit them.
Yet only a master of the subject matter or instrument would be able to recognize the genius idea. It is the prior labor and developed expertise that allows them to find the answer or the melody seemingly by daydreaming or taking in their surroundings. That same phenomenon applies to networking.
The more you know, the better you are at making connections.
A conversation overheard in line to get coffee or riding in an elevator may present the perfect chance to jump in with a unique, situation appropriate pitch for how you solve a problem. Contributing helpful insights to a conversation is more effective when we are already familiar with the material and can point out something original.
Take that a step further and imagine hacking spontaneity. Notice which industry leader unexpectedly shows up to a conference’s reception or discover which powerful influencer is in your proximity at the next event. Our day is filled with micro-moments – that impulse to turn to your phone to make things happen – and MeetVibe’s proximity feature helps you make the most of those micro-moments to see what opportunity is just around the corner.
Reciprocity is the key to successful networking. Listening, learning, and providing value turbocharges your ability to build mutually beneficial networks.