In the journey of networking, it’s not what you know, who you know, or even who knows you. It’s whose life is better because you know them.

Whether you’re writing the next chapter of your career or hoping to take your current career to the next level, consider these three strategies to help you make the most of each networking opportunity:

Generosity is never having to keep score.

Insurgent, the second book in the best-selling dystopian trilogy Divergent, presents two schools of thought on relationships. Peter, who gets sick to his stomach at the idea of being indebted to another person, believes that people only do things for you for one of two reasons: If they want something in return or if they feel like they owe you something. A typical cynic, he’s chronically paranoid about who’s winning in the relationship. It’s death by scorecard. Scarcity thinking. Running a race that isn’t being held, winning a trophy that doesn’t exist.

Tobias, on the other hand, reminds him that those aren’t the only two reasons people do things for you. Sometimes they do them because they love you. That’s the healthiest, smartest and frankly, least labor-intensive approach to business relationships. Throwing away our scorecards. Treating networking as an infinite field, where we’re not playing to win, we’re playing to keep the game going. And in the process, we create growth for all parties involved, no matter what the score is.

I’ve found this approach to relationships to be surprisingly liberating. Instead of trying to arrive at some static point of perfect balance with each other, which, frankly, is a perfectionist ideal that’s never found in actual life, we’re free to enter the mysterious complexity of the interpersonal dynamic. We’re able to tear up our scorecards, accept the fact that nobody really wins at relationships, and generously extend acceptance, forgiveness, and gratitude to each other without the pressure of counting. Remember, racking up points blocks the flow of new opportunities. The moment somebody starts keeping score, the relationship starts to die.


Are you poisoning your relationships by keeping track of who sacrifices more?


At your next networking event, write on the back of everyone’s business cards a short message about one tangible way you might be able to help them. Email them the next day with your ideas. Pay it forward.

I find something new every time I’m with you.

Coltrane’s band was famous for playing the same songs in the second set as they played in the first one, just to see if they could find something new they didn’t find earlier in the evening. Of course, they always did. They never stepped in the same musical river twice. That’s the beauty of jazz. If you do it right, redundancy becomes a mathematical impossibility.

The same rule applies to the networking process. If we impose a standing order of curiosity,  and discovery and growth, practicing the discipline of seeing things with wide-open wonder, we make it easy to find something new every time we’re with each other. It’s all about surprise.

Neuroscientists have actually conducted mountains of research on this very issue, proving that the human brain hates boredom and loves surprises. In fact, regardless of whether or not people say they like surprises, typically life’s unexpected pleasures are more rewarding than expected ones. That’s all surprise is. It’s the emotion we feel when we encounter the unexpected. And if we commit to seeking what is fresh, spontaneous and interesting in the same place we looked for it yesterday, nothing can strip us of myriad opportunities for wonder.

Every new season becomes an opportunity to grow closer to each other; to learn to understand one another's evolving business needs as the years go by. And that’s a really courageous form of interpersonal growth. Still hoping for fresh wind. Still weaving a tapestry of pure joy and beauty. Still wanting to get lost in a private world of our own personal delight and awe.


How many of your relationships have enough uncertainty to make life sizzle and renew your sense of wonder?


Next time you have lunch with a colleague, see if you can finish your meal first. That means you’re asking the most questions and talking the least.

Related: Social Networking: How to Connect with Potential Employers Online

What can you do in five minutes that will change somebody’s life?

Creating a value inventory can be a frustrating and uncomfortable exercise. Especially if you’re too humble to turn off your modesty filter. But if you’re willing to engage your imaginations, own your authentic power and honestly appraise that which you bring to the table, there’s no telling what you might accomplish. I have a friend who loves to ask his clients what they can do in five minutes that will change somebody's life.

It’s an extraordinary question for several reasons. For starters, it contains the verb do. This stimulates an action-oriented, interpersonal, skill-based response. It forces you to think about past experiences in which you expended emotional labor and had a profound impact on another person.

The next element is the time constraint. By only giving yourself five minutes, it challenges you to concentrate your value into a practical, tight package that allows the person on the receiving end of your value to imagine the full scope of your power.

And finally, there’s the element of changing somebody’s life, which is the kind of thought experiment the average person doesn’t give themselves permission to conduct.


What can you do in five minutes that will change somebody’s life?

I’ve had numerous moments like that in my own life on both sides of the equation. People, friends, mentors, and clients have made observations, given feedback, asked questions, and imparted strategies that literally altered my trajectory forever. Conversely, I’ve also sat down with people on a number of occasions and offered the same life-changing gift to them.

Both of these highly human experiences make you feel fully alive, fully present to the possibilities of life. And the exciting part is, each one of us can take part, but only if we’re willing to accept and deploy the love that makes it possible. Hoff explained it best in his translation of the ancient eastern scripture. No matter how useful we may be, sometimes it takes us a while to recognize our own value. If you want to gain a better sense of your highest abilities, ask and answer the question.


Next week, email five colleagues and ask them the same question about your own value. This will help you gain a broader understanding of your abilities for your career progression.

Remember, the secret to networking is that it’s not about being the life of the party, it’s about bringing other people to life at the party. Starting today, stop keeping score, lead with your curiosity and think about the kind of value you can deliver in short bursts.

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