A friend of mine is a well-known local radio personality. Like most people in his position, he is frequently out in the community at events and charity functions. His position has afforded him the opportunity to get to know and connect with a lot of people. He is what most people would refer to as a “center of influence”.
We were talking recently about what it is like to be so well known. The majority of the time it works well for him; it’s not a burden and he has the opportunity on occasion to actually make a new friend. These he called his standout moments when someone engages him in conversation and actually connects with him. That, he said, is unique.
What makes these actual connections unique is that most introductions are either “fan-based” or people want to connect to a “center of influence”. The motivation for these connections is typically self-serving: knowing the radio guy satisfied a need or offered the potential for usefulness.
Libby Purves wrote an article for The London Times titled The Unseemly Art of Networking. The primary premise of the article is that the “overhyped practice of networking” is based on cultivating a friendship with someone specifically because he could be useful to you. The outcome is the approached person, the moment they suspect that comradely affection is dependent on how useful they are, shrinks away.
An owner of an IT firm I know attended a networking event. As at most networking events everyone gets a minute to introduce himself. As soon as my friend announced he owned a company he said he instantly felt like “the piece of meat in the pool of piranha”. And he was right; when the introductions ended no less than 5 people descended upon him.
The radio personality’s situation, the premise of Ms. Purves’ article, and the IT owner experience at a networking event all illustrate the challenge with networking today. Too frequently it is the practice of meeting with people in order to expand potential for your opportunities.
There is no fault in focusing on your business and how to grow it. Most new business emanates through people and referrals. The problem arises when your mindset for meeting new people is borne solely out of a motivation to grow your business. When this mindset is present, whether overtly or in the background, you raise the other person’s defenses.
The reason the presence of this opportunistic mindset creates defensiveness is founded in the way we interact. Inherently, people sense our intention – we humans are expert in sussing out insincerity. And when a mismatch in communications occurs (e.g., “I’m so pleased to meet you” thinly veils, “I’m hoping you will help me”), the dynamics of the interchange shift.
Consider the term Center of Influence. These people are what Malcolm Gladwell referred to as a connectors in his book The Tipping Point. When seeking to expand your connections and people whom you know it is natural to want to meet the connectors. Knowing them certainly expands your opportunities to meet others.
Now think about it from the center of influence’s point of view. People who are true centers of influence have got to feel put upon. Everyone wants to know them and the motivation in most cases has nothing to do with the center of influence as a person.
Networking works, but only if the motivation is not self serving. Go to events. Meet people. It’s the only way to expand your connections and relationships.
But, and this is a big but, think in terms of building a relationship first and foremost. Get to know the person, not the person’s job, who they know, or how they might help you.
Building relationships without ulterior motives is very satisfying for both parties. It builds trust, and trust is the greatest currency we can develop. Everything else follows from there.