The politics of networking or rubbing your contacts up the wrong way

iStock_000005618867XSmallI love networking. I have not been out and about for a few months for reasons beyond my control, but I do like to get out and meet people. It is not just because I like getting business, although it helps, and it is not about the joy of giving a referral. It is just great to talk to others in business and to learn from them and to hear their latest news.

However in a decade of networking meetings face-to-face I have never got involved in a discussion about politics. Politics is very divisive. People get heated. They say unkind things when they discuss an issue. There are ad hominem attacks on individuals whether in the room or otherwise. Networkers-in-person simply know better than to engage in any political discussion beyond the state of the economy, and that is usually talking about the present rather than who is responsible for it, good or bad.

So why do people in normally perfectly nice on-line forums sometimes start political arguments? It is very upsetting if one finds oneself involved, or even, as I read the other day, see one’s own views trashed by proxy. Of course I have political views. What reasonably intelligent person does not? I just do not mention them on-line except in pointing out when politicians are simply factually wrong on a subject where I have specialist knowledge.

Even reading someone else’s throwaway comment in a thread on Facebook can be very hurtful, and while it may not be intended, it can put one right off the person, even if socially you really like her / him.

It comes back to being really careful what we say on-line. As I have said before, when I got my amateur radio license or “ticket” a long time ago, we were bound by the ethical instruction not to engage in discussion of politics or religion. It was and is a good rule, and should be applied to business networking. Then we can get on with business without having our feathers ruffled by some unfortunate comment. Can’t we?

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Networking and participation

I have been involved with referral networking groups over a number of years. Generally they have been the breakfast meeting organizations which only one member for each category of business is permitted to join. Mostly they work well and a good number of referrals is passed,

Occasionally we get grumbling both from members and from visitors who are reluctant to join.

Often the visitors will say “It just seems to be the same people there every week”. Well, of course it is. That’s the whole point; to have a close-knit group of people working together to find business for each other. Also, if you do have that relationship with other business people it can survive in friendship long after other factors have meant that you or they have moved on.

If people don’t get that it is about working they probably don’t get networking.  If they cannot be recruited and educated it is no use worrying about them.

I was rather surprised once when talking to a member whose attendance had fallen off dramatically. When I asked him why he wasn’t coming he said he was bored with the “same old”. Well, a referral group is about working together, not having a meeting served on a plate with breakfast. What had he given? How many referrals had he passed? If he thought the group was stale, why hadn’t he invited any new blood along?

The leadership of a referral networking group or any networking meeting is not there to provide entertainment. Of course it is useful to sometimes have a speaker who can educate about networking or about their business so that members can better refer them. Networking groups are about business and while they ought to be a lot of fun, that comes from members’ participation

It is up to the members to make the group successful; to work together fro the common good. It is their responsibility to make a success of their opportunity having been able to join. It is for them to contribute and to give their enthusiasm as well as their referrals. The business will come to them when they are committed to contribute. Don’t you agree?

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Networking, hunting and butterflies

As someone who runs a breakfast referral group, I follow-up visitors who have attended the occasional meeting in the past but who have not become regulars and signed on the dotted line as members. It is fascinating to hear the different responses, such as the person who obviously didn’t get networking because he was worried about just meeting the same people every week when he joined us for breakfast.

I caught up with another guy this week, and asked him why he hadn’t been to see us. He said “I already go to two networking groups and I don’t want to dilute my referrals too much”.

While I was disappointed as I had hoped he could be a valuable member of the group, I thought this was a great answer from someone who really understands networking and the importance of building trust in his inner circle of business friends. He has earned my respect.

The problem with the networking butterflies, those who flit from group to group and probably cover quite a few miles, is that they are in reality hunters. They have to be because they spread themselves too thinly to be capable of giving referrals to many people they meet.

What they hope for is a great and fortunate referral or at least a good lead in a conversation they may have with someone they hardly know. Of course it happens and it has its place in the business world in that such people are salesmen or saleswomen; let us settle for sales people. However they are not good networkers and are not expecting to be able to give anything back. Networking success usually involves giving first and receiving later.

Our hunting butterflies may protest that their larger business network may benefit from referrals. They may suggest that they can maintain relationships with one or two hundred people in a referral networking environment. They may refer to Dunbar’s number but the reality is that if they know ten printers and eight graphic designers, only one of those is up for each referral in those categories and that is the one they know best.

Do you agree? Have you seen these people fluttering around?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking and knowing when to say “thank you”

My grandfather always said giving was a selfish act, because we took pleasure in making the gift or helping someone else. I am sure he was right. Giving does give me a nice warm feeling inside as it must for most people

We all know that to be successful networkers we should give, and give unconditionally, and in business networking we give in order to build trust. We benefit later on from referrals and recommendations, sometimes years later. In the meantime we take pleasure in the giving.

None of that is new. We know all that. So if someone asks for help, we spend time in helping and take quite a lot of trouble, and we get not even the most perfunctory thanks from the recipient, how do we feel? We gave unconditionally. We expected nothing, did we? Well, we would like to know that we had been of assistance, but if we receive no thanks it is harder for us to trust the person we helped. Perhaps that person just uses and takes from people. We hate to judge the person but we are left not knowing,

Saying “thank you” is so important.

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How I use Twitter

I love Twitter. Many people blog about it, but a networking friend of mine is struggling to understand how she may benefit, and this is what I have told her.

I use Twitter:

• to stay in touch with as many as possible of my on-line and off-line network with whom I had had contact already when I started a year and a half ago.
• to find new connections and interesting people.
• the above would include people in my own business or allied businesses in tax and accountancy, and across borders too.
• to keep up with the latest news, by which I mean news in general, social media news and news in my own business area
• to have a bit of fun with people I know or have met through Twitter.
• to follow the exploits of celebrities of interest to me
• to find blogs of interest from a professional point of view or of general interest including those related to social media
• to draw people to my own blogs and hope they find them interesting

I use tools to manage my contacts in groups and Twitter lists, because no one can do anything more than dip in now and again to the main “All Friends” Twitter stream. The main tools I use are TweetDeck which is desktop based and HootSuite, which is web browser based. That way I can see what my closer contacts are saying all the time and we can have conversations and help each other. In the beginning it does need a bit of work, but after that one can just dip in and out, a few minutes a day, or however long one wishes, and can use the various phone apps to stay in touch when out and about.

Twitter is the cement or glue which binds my larger network together. It has vastly increased the number of people I feel I know at least a little, and there are more people to whom I could give referrals. I have reconnected with people with whom I had lost contact.

Above all, Twitter involves conversation and being part of the conversation, and it has brought me business too. Of course, depending on your current business and situation it may not be of benefit, but I would feel that spending just a little time on Twitter was an investment for the future,

Follow me on Twitter @JonStow