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The Networking Jerk

From the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz.

When you look back upon a life and career of reaching out to others, you want to see a web of friendships to fall back on, not the ashes of bad encounters. Here are a few rules I can suggest from personal experience to ensure that you never become a Network Jerk:

1. Don't schmooze.

Have something to say, and say it with passion. Make sure you have something to offer when you speak, and offer it with sincerity. Most people haven't figured out that it's better to spend more time with fewer people at a one-hour get-together, and have one or two meaningful dialogues, than engage in the wandering-eye routine and lose the respect of most of the people you meet. I get e-mails all the time that read, "Dear Keith, I hear you're a good networker. I am, too. Let's sit down for fifteen minutes and a cup of coffee." Why? I ask myself. Why in the world do people expect me to respond to a request like that? Have they appealed to me emotionally? Have they said they could help me? Have they sought some snippet of commonality between us? I'm sorry, but networking is not a secret society with some encoded handshake practiced for its own virtue. We must bring virtue to it.

2. Don't rely on the currency of gossip.

Of course, using gossip is easier. Most people lap up such information. But it won't do you any good in the long run. Eventually the information well will run dry as more and more people realize you're not to be trusted.

3. Don't come to the party empty-handed.

Who are the stars of today's Internet world? Bloggers. Those free-wheeling cybernauts who set up sites and online journals to provide information., links, or just empathy to a community of like-minded individuals. They do it for free, and they're often rewarded with a devout following of people who, in return, offer as much as they receive. It's a loop. In connecting, as in blogging, you're only as good as what you give away.

4. Don't treat those under you poorly.

Soon enough, some of them will become "overlings." In business, the food chain is transient. You must treat people with respect up and down the ladder. Michael Ovitz, the famed Hollywood super agent, was said to be a master networker. A scathing and relatively recent Vanity Fair profile, with dozens of anonymous and not-so-anonymous sources taking shots at the man, was a very public expression of a dazzling career that had gone somehow horribly wrong. People asked what happened? Ovitz has some amazing interpersonal skills, but he wielded them disingenuously. People he no longer needed he treated with indifference, or worse. It wasn't surprising that these same people not only reveled in, but may have also contributed to, his fall.

5. Be transparent.

"I am what I am," the cartoon character Popeye used to say. In the information age, openess--whether it concerns your intentions, the information you provide, or even your admiration--has become a valuable and much-sought-after attribute. People respond with trust when they know you're dealing straight with them. At a conference, when I run into someone I've been dying to meet, I don't hide my enthusiasm. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I've admired your work from afar for quite some time and been thinking how beneficial it might be if we could meet one another." Coy games may work in a bar, but not when you're looking to establish a deeper, more meaningful connection.

6. Don't be too efficient.

Nothing comes off as less sincere than receiving a mass e-mail addressed to a long list of recipients. Reaching out to others is not a numbers game. Your goal is to make genuine connections with people you can count on.

I'm embarrassed by the way I learn this lesson. I had always heard that sending out holiday/New Year's greeting cards was a good idea. So I began the practice when I graduated from Yale to send a holiday card to everyone in my contact database. By the time I was at Deloitte, that list was thousands of people long and I was hiring temp help to address and even sign the cards at year's end. Well, we all can see this coming. The intention was good enough until a college roommate noted (actually gibed) how appreciative he was to get not one but actually three cards one year...all with different signatures. It's not about mass, it's about a real connection.

If you're not making friends while connecting, best to resign yourself to dealing with people who don't care much about what happens to you. Being disliked will kill your connecting efforts before they begin. Alternatively, being liked can be the most potent, constructive force for getting business done.

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