This is the only way to win at networking: Always offer to help. Never expect anything in return.
I call it Golden Rule of Networking, and it should permeate all your networking efforts. What makes that a little tricky is that it goes against every naturally acquisitive, ambitious and self-serving impulse in you.
My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don't keep score.
What's that mean? Most of us understand networking as an act of mutual action and mutual exchange. Reciprocity. A transaction that is mutually beneficial to both. That's the kind of reciprocity that most people are familiar with.
My definition of reciprocity is quite different. You must give without keeping score. No quid pro quo. It’s the one fundamental concept that is the most misunderstood in business today. Few people truly get it. You are either all in or all out.
There have been plenty of people over the years who said they were going to help me in some way, but they didn’t. Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe they just forgot. Maybe they never intended to. It doesn’t matter. You cannot keep score, or you will lose for sure.
Deposits in the Brain Bank
Let me tell you how it works: If you're smart, you surround ourselves with talented people—the most talented you can find. They are your most powerful asset. In my case, I regard this select group as my own personal brain bank. They include our family, friends, mentors, fellow workers and our industry contacts. You never know when you'll need to draw on the "accounts" you create with those oh-so-valuable resources.
With every contact within your brain bank – every call and every visit – preferably near the conclusion, sincerely ask the other person what you can do to be helpful to them. Ninety-five percent of the time, people will thank you for asking and tell you that there's really nothing they need. If, however, they do ask you for a favor, then your eyes should light up.
Here's Your Chance
As you learn what is being asked for, note every detail with warmth and urgency. Fulfill the request to the best of your ability. As you do it, and after it's done, expect nothing, absolutely nothing, in return. Don't shop for gratitude in your phone calls or e-mails. Do the favor because you like and respect the other person and honestly want to help.
If you manage your career and live your life in this way, two magical things will happen:
Over time, people will find ways to do remarkable and unexpected things for you that make your life easier.
When you're hit by a storm, you are likely to find the most astonishing human network of support you could ever imagine.
Over the years, my networking focus has shifted from the quantity of contacts I maintain to the quality of contacts. The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships. The quality of your business is no different.