I recently received the following question and I thought you might relate to both the question and my answer:
Question: “One of the things I am working on is asking “my people” for help. I realize that I have an amazing network! This “asking for help” and learning to “tap my network” is something that I must master. All of these amazing resources! I have to learn how to do this gracefully… any tips would be appreciated. Can you recommend a book? Maybe you have written an article on the topic? The thing is I don’t want to appear needy. I need to keep these people’s respect, but at the same time, I value their input. I want them to continue to see me as a peer. I am sure you understand what I am saying.”
‘Create Your Network Before You Need Them.’ This is a paraphrased title from a great blog post by Jeremiah Owyang called Build Your Network Before You Need Them and he says it best here:
“Those who ignore the party/conversation/network when they are content and decide to drop in when they need the network may not succeed. It’s pretty easy to spot those that are just joining the network purely to take – not to give. Therefore, be part of the party/conversation/network before you need anything from anyone. Start now, and continue to build relationships by giving now: share knowledge, help others, and become a trusted node and connector, not just an outlying ‘dot’ of a comet that swings in every 4 years or so.”
When we build a network of connections, if you just join as a taker, you will be exposed as the opportunist you’ve been flagged to be. This is not what networking is about. Why do so many people get this wrong? No wonder networking is viewed as an intimidating chore by some, those very people who see it as ‘asking’ or ‘begging’ for something first rather than offering genuinely and generously first.
Networking is about letting others know what you can uniquely offer to them and sharing freely, positioning yourself as a resource, a sphere of influence or one who can direct others to those who can provide the information or services they seek. We are remembered best for those things we give freely without asking for anything in return. And without fail, the rewards come when we least expect it.
When you think of your next social and/or professional networking opportunity position yourself as a giver. Think first of what you can bring to the party rather than what you can take home in a doggie bag. The experience may be less intimidating because you are not asking for anything. This philosophy will not only help you to enjoy those ‘networking events’ but also make you a better professional and a better human being.
When connecting one-on-one in person on the phone, at a lunch, the principle is the same. It is about being a Giver first. When you let people know what you are doing and ask how you might be able to help them in the future genuinely the awkwardness flies out the window because you are not asking for anything, you are offering without being asked for anything in return. Ultimately, while not a stated goal, you will be remembered for your unsolicited generosity and opportunities will be presented to you. This is not any newfangled philosophy. It is simply human nature and a wonderful way to live your life.
The reason it is so hard to ask for help or for business is because asking for anything is not a natural state of being. Selfishness and self-centeredness is a learned trait. You watch younger children and they naturally look to share and help. When this generosity leaves us…I don’t know. But helping is instinctive and when you get back to this normal state of being you will feel more natural and confident in building and tapping your network. Cast your bread upon the waters…
Susan Bonar Mayer is President and CEO of Litigation Abstract, Inc., headquartered in Missoula, Montana, with a sales and service office in Seattle, Washington. Susan graduated from Duke University with a degree in History. Since 1989, Susan and Litigation Abstract, Inc. have provided customized litigation support services to both public and private clients in the United States and Canada, including data and information management, discovery reviews, document and ediscovery productions and electronic trial support. Susan is an active member of Women in Ediscovery, participates in The Sedona Conference on ediscovery, writes a blog on litigation support and ediscovery, and frequently speaks on data management, ediscovery and electronic trial. Visit: www.litigationabstract.com. Susan can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Litigation_Abs