Sunday, June 20, 2010

Knot In The Network

So let me understand. You hate office parties. You don't like making small talk. You don't like face-to-face meetings with strangers. Yet you are complaining that all the good (select from the following list: deals, mates, ideas, customers, all of the above, or other) are already taken. Not only are you not well-networked, you do not like the idea of networking at all. You are not in a network. Being a knot in the network (or more formally, a "node") would remedy your complaint. So, what should you do?

Coastal Community Foundation strives to be the pre-eminent hub of philanthropic activity in our region and we have worked hard to be well-connected. It has taken years of work but looking back I can now see what we did to get connected. Success for us has always been connecting a donor to a nonprofit. The first step in being tied into a network is linking together others. We can tell this simple matchmaking step has worked for us because people we do not even know come to us saying that someone else we do not know told them to contact us. That's linkage.

You can also become a valuable connector in a network by providing thoughtful advice. Take the time to listen, really listen when someone is asking for advice. Be generous with your time when someone is looking for a job or seeking more information. This seems a bit like "just do good work" kind of advice, but for networking this is really effective. By doing someone a favor, something that is easy for you but hard for them, you generate life-long gratitude disproportionate to the size of the favor done. It is amazing how favors done months or years ago lead to new contacts today. You can tell if you are doing this or have done this in the past if people tell you stories about how something you said or did motivated, inspired, gave confidence, etc. to them. If you hear those stories today you know that in the past you were doing your networking right.

And finally, if people come to you to share confidential information in advance of the gossip, then you will know that you have arrived. Remarkably, you get there by not gossiping...that is, by not breaking the confidence of those who trust you to stay silent.

So, you can tell if you are a knot or a node if people share secrets, tell you stories about yourself, or connect people to you on their own. But what if none of those things are happening? What if you really are starting from scratch? That is easy. Volunteer to work on committees. Volunteer to help make introductions. Volunteer to help...and then make sure to deliver.

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