How to Network With Busy People – Part 6

This is a continuation of the “How to Network With Busy People” series. The first post in the series can be found here.

Continuing on with our tips…

Be discerning.

Don’t try to network with someone just because they seem like a high-value target.

When I started my computer games business in 1994, my networking strategy was pretty inane. I would network with everyone and anyone who was willing – especially anyone who seemed to be more successful or experienced than I was.

My networking strategy was, “If someone wants to network with me, that’s good enough.” Of course that was a desperation strategy.

I wasted a lot of time doing this. If I had done even a little bit of homework on some of the people I tried to network with, I’d have realized there were glaring incompatibilities that would have prevented us from becoming anything more than very casual contacts. They couldn’t help me, I couldn’t help them, and we didn’t have enough in common to become good friends. It really wasn’t worth all those two-hour business lunches at local cafes.

Now I’m a lot more discerning. First and foremost, I look for shared values. I seek out people who are happy, growth-oriented, open-minded, self-actualizing, and willing to try new things. People who are unhappy, inflexible, immature, or highly judgmental don’t make good friends or contacts for me.

Define a simple heuristic (i.e. a rule) for the kinds of people you want to network with. This will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Years ago I networked with people I figured I had to tolerate because they seemed like high-value contacts. That approach gave me a lot of headaches. These days I’d never add someone to my Rolodex unless I actually liked them as a person. I don’t do business with anyone I wouldn’t want to hang out with on the basis of friendship. This may sound limiting, but it’s actually incredibly freeing. It ensures that running my business is more fun and rewarding than it would otherwise be. I know when I wake up each morning that I’ll be spending some time that day connecting with friends.

Be trustworthy and cooperative.

A few years ago, an author/speaker that I’d never met invited me to lunch. I’d heard of him, but I’d never met him, so I accepted the invite. But before that lunch took place, I casually mentioned to some other speaker friends that I was going to lunch with him because I knew they’d met him before.

Two of my friends reacted strangely, “Oh… you’re going to lunch with that guy? Hmmm… well, okay. Good luck…”

I gave them a puzzled look, but I couldn’t get a straight answer regarding what they were hinting at. A few days later, I went to lunch with the guy, and it went fine. He was a bit hyper and heavy on the self-promotion, but that isn’t uncommon among people I meet, so I didn’t hold it against him. After the lunch we parted amicably. I figured my friends just didn’t like him for some reason.

Months later, the guy emails me to let me know about a new product he’s about to release. It wasn’t clear to me why he was telling me about it, so I asked him if he was looking for joint-venture partners. Usually when authors/speakers tell me about their upcoming products, they’re looking for JV launch partners. Happens all the time.

Well… what the guy did next totally shocked me. He sent me a long, scathing reply filled with cursing and personal insults IN ALL CAPS. He went completely kittywompus.

I did a double take. I thought to myself, “Holy crap… what the hell happened here?” I went back and re-read my previous reply to him, thinking I must have made a serious blunder, but it seemed totally benign. I showed it to Erin, and she had the same reaction I did – the guy’s response made absolutely no sense to us. We figured that maybe he was drunk when he wrote it or was venting some misplaced aggression.

I tried to follow up with him the next day to ask what was going on, and he quickly replied with more of the same, ranting and raving with lots of ALL CAPS cursing, exclamation marks, and personal insults. It was one of the most immature and unprofessional things I’ve ever seen. I figured he must have a drug problem or something and decided it would be best to steer clear of him. I’ve seen some emotional outbursts when people get stressed from time to time, but this guy and I hadn’t even done anything together other than sharing a lunch and a polite conversation months prior.

I later learned that I wasn’t the only person he went ballistic on for no apparent reason. Supposedly he’s been permanently banned from speaking at certain events due to highly inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. For example, when he’d speak at an event, he’d bash and try to discredit the speakers who were on stage before him, telling audiences to only buy his products and not theirs. Consequently, he’s pissed off a lot of people, and some meeting planners have blacklisted him for life.

When I later told my friends what happened, they didn’t seem all that surprised. Apparently this guy takes pride in being staunchly independent, not needing others, and bashing anyone he perceives as a potential competitor. Looking back, I suspect his lunch invite was merely a ploy to pick my brain for ideas he could use for personal gain and that he was never actually interested in the human side of networking.

Now is this a good way to network? I should hope not.

Personally I have nothing against this guy – we only met once, and I barely know him. But is it a wise idea for him to go around burning bridges with people who might be in a position to help him? On the surface he seems like a smart guy with a wealth of knowledge, but he isn’t trustworthy. I doubt he loses any sleep over it though.

There is competition in the business world, but the pie is big enough to share. It’s unwise to behave like a jerk and create more opponents than allies. Being a good sport is an important part of the game.

Human beings are social creatures. We can do a lot of good for each other. We’re stronger together than we are as individuals. The real core of networking is for us to connect and help each other in new ways, both personally and professionally.

I’m indebted to many people for helping me in business or for offering moral support at the right time. I can’t imagine how hard it would be if I tried to do everything as an island unto myself.

Relationships require trust. If people worry they can’t trust you, they’re going to keep their shields up around you. But if they see they can trust you, then you have the opportunity to form a real bond.

Trust creates friendship. It feels good. It makes people want to connect.

Trust also promotes good professional relationships. Trust is the lubricant of business. No matter how many pages a contract is, if you don’t have at least some trust, you don’t have a deal. In low trust environments, business suffers and corruption soars. In high trust environments, business thrives and corruption diminishes. Where trust is strong, a handshake is almost as good as a written contract. But without high trust, a written contract can’t save you. Once people start pointing to the contract, trust has already eroded, and the deal is headed south.

If you want to be a better networker, be trustworthy. Be a person people that others can trust. Make commitments sparingly, but keep your word when you do. Honor the true spirit of your deals, not just the letter of them. You may still have misunderstandings from time to time, but trust makes it easier to resolve them quickly and painlessly. Make it easy for people to feel safe with you.

It’s good to network creatively, but don’t be crazy. Don’t go so far as to make people fear they can’t trust you. If people worry they can’t trust you, they’ll simply avoid you, and you’ll miss out on many opportunities.

This works both ways of course. Don’t network with people you don’t feel you can trust. If you get a bad intuitive feeling, bow out gracefully. Dodging a bad connection is at least as important as forming a good one.

In business people talk about each other — a lot. If you aren’t trustworthy, word gets around.

When I worked in the computer gaming industry, there was a small publisher that did a lot of deals with indie developers. They approached me about licensing one or more of my games. I’d heard of them, but I’d never worked with them, so I contacted people who had worked with them and asked how it went. The publisher’s clients were listed on their website, so this took only minutes. What I heard back was consistently negative — false promises, late or nonexistent payments, multiple breaches of contract, being unresponsive to communication, and on and on. Naturally I declined to work with that publisher. Unfortunately some of my friends didn’t do their homework and signed deals with this publisher they later regretted when they got taken for a ride. Meanwhile, other competing publishers surfaced and behaved in a more trustworthy manner; their positive reputation spread, and they became much larger and more successful than the untrustworthy publisher, which eventually went out of business.

A cooperative mindset is much more powerful than a competitive mindset in business networking. Technically I could define anyone who works in the personal development field as a potential competitor of mine, but that would seem silly to me. Others in this field are doing great work, and we have many shared values. We’re all part of the same team.

When people know you’re a cooperative team player, even in a world that seems competitive at first glance, they’re more likely to want to work with you and to refer others to you. Not every transaction in business involves money changing hands. People do favors for their friends as well. I like doing favors for business friends I’m in a good position to help, and I’m grateful when I’m the recipient of such favors. This sort of thing makes the world of business feel much more like family. Contacts and associates become genuine friends that like to help each other out.

To be continued…