A network is only as good as the individuals and the relationships that it’s made up of, so when it comes to a professional network, the more the merrier! But it doesn’t end there. A truly valuable network is also founded on meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. Remember, social connections—whether professional or otherwise—should always be two-way avenues. Here's how to add value to your network.
Alright, you know you need to add value to your network. But how?
There’s common wisdom out there in the transaction paradigm of networking that says you have to give before you take. I already talked about this in my post on building better professional relationships, so you know I think it’s a load of hooey.
While the spirit behind this argument is true—generosity is a virtue—true generosity is lost when it’s framed in this give-then-get kind of way. After all, the whole exchange is serving the end goal of getting. That’s the very definition of selfishness and manipulation.
So, the first problem you might have when you’re trying to add value to the people in your network is that your agenda is getting in the way.
This puts you back at square one.
Go back and read my post on networking, and remind yourself that deep, meaningful relationships are an end in themselves and not simply a means to get ahead.
Another problem you might have with this “give first, then take” concept is that you just don’t know what you have to offer. The more senior and important your new contacts are, the harder it is to understand the value you can give them. A senior executive is a well-connected expert with very little spare time. Do you think forwarding that article you’re obsessed with is really going to add to her life? Isn’t it more likely to be a time-wasting nuisance?
This is not to say that you should avoid sharing your information and knowledge with people senior to you! You have information that will be valuable to others—even senior folks. But the point here is that one man’s treasure can be another man’s trash: what adds value to one person’s life is a waste of time for someone else.
If you’re still early in your career, you probably believe that almost all your treasure will be trash to those important senior people you encounter. And in one sense, you wouldn’t be wrong about that. So how should you engage?
1. Giving someone the chance to be of service always works.
My last two posts have hopefully made it clear that one of the best things you can do for the people in your network is give them the chance to add value to your life and then follow up with vivid appreciation.
I am serious about this. Let people be of genuine service and then help them fully understand and experience the positive impact they have had. There’s almost nothing better you can do for someone, because this fulfills their very deepest desire to be meaningful in the world.
And it’s probably a much more powerful value add for a senior professional than any article you might forward or introduction you might make.
Allowing someone to be of service to you is a great first step in bridging the gap from a new connection to a genuine friendship, but it can’t be the ONLY step.
Because if a relationship doesn’t have a future, it’s not really a relationship. You’ll need to find other ways to keep your relationships moving forward.
Let’s revisit the Anatomy of a Friendship.
Once you’ve mastered personal introductions, making new connections, giving them a future, and initiating those first few follow ups, you move into phases 3 and 4 of a friendship: shared positive experiences and shared connections.
These two phases are more about sharing rather than exchanging, creating rather than dividing, and experiencing rather than reaching an outcome.
Consider at this stage that your job is not to add value or receive value, but rather to create shared positive experiences and shared connections.
Shared experiences and shared connections are each an end in themselves. As you create more of them, you’re naturally fostering a more understanding, empathetic, and interconnected world. Doesn’t that sound like a worthwhile use of energy? Read on!
2. Reminisce about your shared positive experiences.
Shared positive experiences can take a million forms. Stop and think for a moment. Pick a close friend. What memories come to mind as you remember your friend?
If I do this exercise myself, I think of one of my lifelong best friends, fellow business school alumna, and travel buddy. We survived two years together at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. We’ve visited over 12 countries together. We hiked the Inca Trail, drove through the desert, wilderness, and arctic tundra of Georgia (the country, not the state) and swam on beaches that could only be reached by boat in Turkey. Without a doubt, we’ve shared some of our life’s greatest moments together.
Importantly, some of them involved struggle. Throughout the years of our friendship, we’ve been there for each other through break ups, job transitions, family struggles, and health problems.
The thing that made these experiences positive, though, was that we shared them. We worked together against nature to survive the Peruvian wilderness. We both recuperated from MBA burnout in Rome. If you think about your own friendships, some of the strongest bonds are formed by weathering hardship together.
So if you want to nurture and deepen a relationship into true friendship, the thing that matters is that experiences be shared. The more experiences you share and the more meaningful those experiences are, the stronger your friendships will be.
3. Build more shared positive experiences.
You’re not going to trek Peru with someone you just met, and you’re not going to spill your guts about family problems to someone you encountered last night at a networking event. You have to start small.
But there are so many simple things that constitute shared positive experiences:
- Sharing an enthusiastic introduction
- Informing someone about something you love
- Listening to someone and asking questions that let them expand on a passion
- Conducting a great informational interview that gives them the chance to tell their own stories
- Giving someone the opportunity to be of service
- Expressing Vivid Appreciation
- Following up to let them know your progress on something you discussed
All of these things will create a shared positive experience because they create shared positive emotion.
When you talk fervently about a passion, the listener is touched and uplifted, reminded of their own passions, and connected with their greater sense of purpose. You’re both—in that moment—sharing a feeling of passion and possibility.
Something similar happens when you allow someone to be of service, thank them, and include them in your journey.
And, very importantly, these shared experiences can be created with anyone, anywhere, any time—no matter how different the other person may seem to be from you.
4. Keep the shared positivity going.
Here are a few simple examples of shared positive experience:
- Smiling (seriously!!)
- Sharing a joke
- Finding a common interest
- Discovering a friend in common
- Learning something new from someone
- Teaching someone something you know
- Engaging in lively open-minded debate
- Connecting someone to someone else who can help them
- Sharing a favorite resource, book, class, etc.
- Growing together (for example, reading an article and discussing its implications)
- Supporting someone online (think retweeting, LinkedIn endorsements, positive Facebook comments)
- Sending an email on an important occasion
- Sending an email just to let them know you were thinking about them
- Introducing two people who don’t know each other
The list goes on and on, but as you can see, these are all shared positive experiences that you could create with someone you just met.
These small steps will naturally lead to the bigger ones. Not everyone will become a lifelong friend and travel buddy, but if you take time to create shared positive experiences with the people you meet, some of them will. And in the process, you’ll be having a lot more fun with others.
5. Turn your passions into value for others.
What are the top 5 ways you would like to add value to your network? What are the passions and interests you’d like to leverage to be of service to anyone you meet?
How can you turn your passions into value for others? Make a list of at least 3 pieces of content that you could develop to share with your network and then go do it!
Here are some examples of what I mean.
If you’re passionate about your local restaurant scene…
Compile a list of your top 20 favorite restaurants with a description of the ambiance, the best dishes, and which kinds of events the venue is good for (large groups, client meetings, intimate gatherings) and include links to their website, TripAdvisor reviews, Google maps location. Publish this in a blog post, LinkedIn article, or even just a word document and have it ready to share with people you meet.
If you’re passionate about global travel…
Do a write-up of each trip you take—include hotel, sightseeing, and restaurant details. Have these ready to share with anyone interested in visiting those places.
If you love golf…
Review all the local golf courses and driving ranges you visit. Include insights about the best hours to avoid crowds and peak sun and phone numbers for tee-time reservations.
If you like to cook…
- Use Pinterest to track favorite recipes and invite new contacts to connect there.
- Do a write up of your top five favorite ______ recipes and share it via email (fill in the blank with whatever you love—healthy breakfasts, vegan dinners, grill recipes, you name it). Master a single narrow subject, try out different recipes, and report the best to friends and colleagues.
- Compile a list of your favorite cooking blogs or cookbooks—with reviews—and share them.
The possibilities are endless. And these are just hobby-based forms of expertise. The further you advance in your career, the more content you’ll be able to create that shares your professional knowledge as well.
Starting with hobbies is easy, though, and since no one shares exactly your passions and experiences, there’s a good bet that your Top 10 Restaurants or Best Local Gyms list will be meaningful to everyone—including that CEO you’re dying to create a next step with.
Start marshaling your passions to contribute to others. And then continue to develop yourself in areas of passion so you have even more to contribute. You’re going to love this, and it’s going to make your life more fun.
For more inspiration (and if you’re ever planning a trip to Florence, Italy), check out my Florence PowerPoint for an example of sharing a passion. You can download it here: careerprotocol.com/florence.