I went hiking with my friend Tamara this morning, and the walk was glorious. You get two minutes out of Boulder, and it could be 1910. There’s an old barn next to the hiking trail, and we cross and re-cross South Boulder creek a few times along the way. The mountains look amazing from that distance and the leaves are crunchy after the first frost, although it was in the 60’s by the time we went hiking. Great hiking weather. Tamara moved here from Portland because of her allergies. But she said “I have to be near water, as often as I can.”
She got me thinking about water. One of my favorite networking analogies has to do with water – with fishing, in particular. You know the old saying, “Give me a fish and I’ll eat for today – teach me to fish, and I’ll eat for a lifetime?” I’m paraphrasing – you get the idea. This has everything to do with networking. What you run into, if you meet a lot of people, is a lot of requests for fish. Your gut will often tell you that the person you’ve just met really needs a fishing lesson. But he or she may not be open to that.
Among the eight zillion ways to network badly and to mis-use new acquaintances is the instant request. You know what I mean: you’ve barely met a person and s/he says to you “Would you know of anyone offhand who could use my services?” or “May I send you my resume?” We look charitably on these requests because they come from naivete – from people not quite seeing how networking works. People don’t intuitively get that requests rest on the strength of relationships, and that personal credibility is the absolute cornerstone not only to effective networking but to success in business and in life in general. So they ask. And you wonder: do I give this person the fish s/he wants? Withhold the fish? Do I offer a fishing lesson?
It’s a tough call. Unsolicited advice is seldom welcome. But we don’t want to be unsympathetic or unhelpful to a person in need. Let’s break down the problem.
I don’t recommend handing over the fish that’s been requested. “Sure, I will give you some names of people to call” only propagates the worst kind of networking: call it anti-networking. Now the naive networker will call your friends and ask them for more phone numbers. And he or she won’t understand when folks don’t rush to purchase his or her products or services. The key to networking, the person credibility piece, is missing. Building on relationships – that’s missing. A distressing number of people jump into business opportunities, particularly people-centric ones like MLM businesses, thinking “This will be a snap.” They think “I can talk to people.” But of course there’s talking, and then there’s talking. People don’t buy from people who merely talk to them, or at them. This is a tough lesson to convey directly, much less indirectly. And not attempting to convey it simply pushes the problem off on someone else. So I think you can’t just hand over the fish and wash your hands.