Networking isn’t dirty. You’re just doing it wrong

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The Brief
When done right, networking can bring immense value to all parties involved. A diverse relationship capital pool helps you add new perspectives, resources, and of course, happy hour opportunities. If networking feels dirty, it may be time to take a look at your motivations instead of the practice. 
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In a recent RelSci 5 newsletter, we linked to a story about why people associate networking with feelings of actual dirtiness or grime. It’s easy to see how that could be the case; networking has gotten a reputation as an opportunist’s activity, a way to make connections for the sole purpose of landing jobs or client referrals.

But, as Natalie Bounassar points out in a recent post for Entrepreneur.com, that sort of perspective on networking is all wrong. Of course, for most of us non-sociopaths, establishing relationships for selfish reasons will feel gross. Real networking, however, is about creating an ecosystem in which all parties benefit. Unfortunately, says Bounassar, that’s not what’s taught to burgeoning professionals:
From the time someone enters college, he or she is constantly being told how vital a network is to personal and professional growth. Students are fed one-line zingers like “Your network is your net worth” and leave school hungry, nearly foaming at the mouth, trying to lap up connections and build a professional community as quickly as possible. 

It takes time to unlearn that behavior, and to understand that building relationship capital is much more about giving than receiving. We talk about him a lot on this blog, but Adam Grant was right when he wrote in his book Give and Take that, by creating an environment in which people feel free to give their time, energy and advice, you not only stimulate connection, communication and creativity but also, in fact, increase the odds that you’ll find the help you need, sought or unsought, down the line. As Bounassar puts it:

People not only need to cultivate productive relationships but also to change the way they think of the key word productiveA productive relationship is not one in which all that someone is doing is taking…A productive relationship is one that focuses just as much on building up the people around as it does building up the person.

So, if after your next networking event you feel a little greasy, maybe it’s time to examine not whether or not you should be networking, but how you’re doing it. 

Deanna Cioppa is a freelance writer who has written for AARP, ESPN The Magazine and Fodor’s. She is a frequent contributor to the RelSci blog. 

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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