Force for Good:
By Peter Amsterdam
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Networking at its core is about relationship-building. These relationships can encompass a wide range of acquaintances, including friends, associates, and colleagues, the people you interact with frequently, and those who support your work on a regular basis in some way, big or small. Networking is about building connections with others through our associations and interactions. Whether these relationships culminate in a witness or provide opportunities to collaborate on charitable works, they have the potential to be building blocks in sharing God’s love with others.
In simple terms, networking is getting to know people, building a circle of friends, associates, and colleagues for the mutual benefit of all parties involved. True networking isn’t about what you can get for yourself or your work—it’s about what you can give to others. It’s based on genuine concern for those you’re building relationships with; you’re aiming to help meet their needs. In the process, your networking circle will expand your thinking, opportunities, and potential.
Collaboration is defined as a cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties work jointly toward a common goal—again, for mutual benefit. … Opportunities for collaboration are one of the results of good networking.1
Following are excerpts of some good tips and counsel that can be applied to networking and collaboration efforts.
Networking takes investment—it’s about investing in people—and not just networking in the sense of what we hope to receive from others, but where we also contribute and bring something to the table, in a way that builds personal relationships with people.
You’ll know you’ve succeeded in networking when you’re viewed as a resource for [what your business has to offer]. If you network haphazardly or spend too much time pushing your own needs, you’ll achieve dismal results.
Networking is not using others and it’s not a cry for help. In other words, if you’re networking with people only when business is down or you’re trying to sell something, others will … run when they see you coming.2
If your interactions with others or communications are based solely on what they can do for you or your work, or even on just a business level, you won’t generally get far in building a solid relationship or a deep friendship. The goal of networking is to establish relationships and ultimately build good friendships, and it can take some work and investment to achieve that. It takes being prepared to give to others if we’re going to build successful networks and establish a foundation of trust that will stand the test of time.
Here are some tips:
• Start with getting to know the person. … Build a relationship of trust.
• Focus the conversation on them, not you. People love to talk about themselves. Learn something personal about them … This tells them that you care more about them than their business.
• Think about how you can help your new acquaintances to meet their business or even personal goals. Then tell them how you can help them to do that for free. You’re not selling your services/products at this point; you’re helping.
• Once everyone seems to be at ease, don’t be afraid to confidently tell them what you do, and pass them more information. If done right, they’ll be more than happy to learn more.
These skills take time and effort, but most importantly, they require a mindset of how networking really works.3
One of the principles of networking is that of being willing to be a giver. In the case of our mission work, this giving could come in the form of participating in drives or charities, or even organizing them. It could be attending functions, speaking at ecumenical meetings, assisting someone in their work, collaborating on a seminar or charitable effort. It could be in any number of ways, and that’s just part of proper etiquette—we give and we take, we do both. But by the same measure we give, it will be given to us.4
One easy and quick way to meet people and to network is through joining organizations, clubs, or special interest groups, or attending seminars or conferences, conventions, events, or whatever public venues are available to you on pertinent topics that provide common ground.
Many of the skills acquired through witnessing, follow-up, working with others, and cross-cultural relations can serve us well when it comes to relationship-building and networking.
The following book excerpts highlight what one author refers to as some of “the rules of relationship building” for networking:
The ability to put yourself in the other person’s position and see things from their point of view. It may come naturally to you or you may have to acquire this skill. Empathy is vital, and it has to be visible. Your business contact should feel that you understand. When you hear him say, “You’re a good person to work with,” you can be assured you’ve got empathy!
Engage with someone by being sympathetic. It will surprise them and make them feel human. Small talk can so often seem superficial and artificial. Get into real conversation with your contact and watch for the warmth of their reaction. … Make your voice warm and engaging and use positive body language.
Never assume that your business contact will have the same views and attitudes that you have. The world is full of different people, all with differing ideas, prejudices, and opinions, and these may not be similar to your own. Their culture may be very far removed from yours, but that does not mean it is less important. You may find some attitudes and customs unusual. Working practices may seem positively odd. In order to build a working relationship, it is helpful to be able to get on with business contacts. Argument and confrontation is not the best basis for building rapport!
If you can understand your contact’s attitudes and customs, you may be able to respect these even if they are wildly different from your own. Respect your contact’s individuality, and take account of what type of person you are dealing with. If you make a concerted effort to “get on their wavelength,” you will find this has a positive effect in subsequent dealings with them.5
Another author refers to the types of skills needed for relationship-building as “the Triple-A” technique:
Acceptance is a vitamin. We all hunger to be accepted as we are. … Don’t set up rigid personal standards of how you think other people ought to act. Give the other person the right to be himself. If he’s a little peculiar, let him be. Don’t insist that he do everything you do and like everything you like. Let him relax when he is around you.
Strangely enough, the people who accept people, and like them just as they are, have the most influence in changing the other person’s behavior for the better. As one psychologist expressed it, “No one has the power to reform another person, but by liking the other person as he is, you give him the power to change himself.”
The second magic “A” that everyone hungers for is approval. Approval goes a little further than acceptance. Acceptance is mostly negative in comparison. We accept the other person with his faults and shortcomings and still accord him our friendship. But approval means something more positive. It goes beyond just tolerating another’s faults, and finds something positive that we can like.
You can always find something to approve of in the other person—and you can always find something to disapprove of. It depends upon what you’re looking for. … If you’re a positive type of personality, you’re on the lookout for things you can approve of.
Another basic hunger is the hunger for appreciation. The word “appreciate” really means to raise in value, or the opposite of “depreciate,” which means to lower in value. We are always looking for people who will raise us in value rather than lower us in value. … When you appreciate a person, you actually make him more valuable and more successful.
Following are some tips on building connections with people after the first contact:
If we’re willing to work with people, despite the fact that we probably won’t see eye-to-eye on all things, and to accept them and appreciate them, the Lord can open many new doors of networking and collaboration, and we can build new relationships of many kinds with many different types of people.
Of course, meeting people and establishing common points of interest is just the first step, and the next and even more important step is cultivating the relationship through ongoing contact. This will likely take being diligent to first of all collect cards, contact information, and e-mail addresses of people you meet in the context of networking, and then organizing the information in such a way that it is easily accessible to build on that first contact, including making a note of pertinent information about the person, their interests, or any requests they have made for information, or adding them to a mailing list that is targeted to their interests.
Building on that initial contact is key to establishing a communication link that you can cultivate in the future. Finding the approach that will be of interest to them helps to take that initial contact a step further. Even if you’re not in touch that frequently with the person, just the fact that you’ve established e-mail communication or have them on a mailing list does establish a link that you can build on in the future when needed.
Sometimes people will be so interested that they will contact you themselves, but it’s always safer to take the initiative to follow up on the contact and cultivate it so as to forge an ongoing connection. Considering how busy people may be, they will often appreciate an e-mail or a simple phone call that maintains the connection without taking a lot of their time in that initial stage.6
The principles of being an “instant witness” can be applied to networking, insofar as being prepared to seize the opportunities that come your way of reaching out to others and forging a connection.
While there are many good pointers and principles that have been identified for building solid networks and for creating relationships of trust with people, the most vital factor in the equation is genuine concern for others. A willingness to reach out and give to others, to contribute, and to manifest a sincere interest in the lives of others is what it takes to build lasting relationships.
Though it takes time and investment and patience to build and maintain networking relationships with others, it can provide opportunities for touching the lives of others the Lord wants to bring your way. It can open doors to build deep friendships and share the good news with others. It can provide a platform for “translating God’s love into action in a way that brings a touch of the divine to someone’s spirit.” It can ultimately “lead people to the discovery of a personal relationship with Jesus,” or help to “improve others’ spiritual quality of life.”7 Networking can be an almost limitless frontier and open any number of doors to new opportunities for making a difference in the lives of others.
Originally published February 2011. Adapted and republished June 2013.
Read by Simon Peterson.
1 Originally published July 2009.
2 Don Crowther, “How to Reach Your Business and Career Goals Through Professional Networking.”
3 Courtesy of Don Crowther's 101PublicRelations.com.
4 Luke 6:38.
5 Frances Kay, Brilliant Business Connections: How Powerful Networking Can Transform You, and Your Company's Performance (Oxford, UK: How To Books, 2004).
6 Excerpts of classes for TFI spokespersons, 2009.