How Can Networking Be Nice?

Many of us have experienced the cringe that can come from networking. Could it ever be anything other than a necessary evil?

Yes. And it can even be nice.

The best, cringe-free networking begins when people gather to learn from and help one another. Building your network does not mean you have to be great at networking. It just requires you to be great at something that can help people. Essentially, the goal is to help people because that in itself is a value of yours and because you believe in someone and their values. It is a total 180 degree mindset shift from thinking, "What can they do for me?"

In renown career and work researcher Adam Grant’s book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives our Success, robust data points to how to be successful: be a giver, not a taker. Asking about a problem that needs solving leads to more meaningful conversations.

Grant goes on to say:

“In my research, I’ve found that givers have stronger relationships and reputations than takers, who burn bridges with their selfishness. Givers also fare better than matchers—people who trade favors quid pro quo and come across as pretty transactional, because they’re always keeping score. The point here is to turn the whole idea of traditional networking on its head: if you want to build a network of people who recognize your value, don’t focus on what you can get. Figure out what you can give.”

At the center of making networking nice, one question emerges. Instead of asking yourself, “How can they help me?” ask yourself, “How can I help this other person?”

When you don’t know what to give, steer towards asking for advice. And then give back weeks, months, or years later by telling them how their advice helped you. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, says:

“I would say that the best thank you notes that I get are when that later impact is reported. But it's part of that, ‘Hey we had this meeting, and it helped me do the following things, and here, let me share with you what it did.’”

Loads of evidence backs this up: to seek advice and then share someone’s impact on you is one of the best ways to win over a professional connection. However, if you’re not genuinely interested in the advice, it can become evident and easily backfire. You need to be authentic.

According to the research, the bedrock of powerful networking shapes up to be this:

learn from one another, help one another, and accomplish something together.