5 Ways To Beat Networking’s ‘Me First’ Mentality

Courtesy: Andrew Neel / Unsplash.com

It seems like everywhere we go, someone is trying to sell us something. It’s no wonder that, when a significant portion of the people that reach out to us professionally have some ulterior motive (usually driven by a monthly or quarterly sales metric), the concept of proactively networking can sometimes feel odd or intrusive. Networking can have a disingenuous connotation because a lot of people don’t approach it genuinely.

The ‘Me-First’ Mentality

Networking can seem more about someone’s chance to lighten their stack of business cards than anything resembling a start to a long-lasting, authentic and mutually grown relationship. If approached like this, it can seem like a painfully cringeworthy experience, similar to speed dating.

This kind of mindset asks:

  • How can I meet my goals through this person?
  • How quickly can I sell them on what I want?
  • What can this person offer me?
  • How are they going to help me get connected?
  • How will knowing them get me ahead?

The ‘me-first’ mentality (in any type of relationship) is completely detrimental to authenticity and creates the cringeworthy experiences that so many people blindly force themselves into, in search of the next job, sell, etc.

You’ve almost certainly heard this quote…

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. — John F. Kennedy

It’s one of the most famous quotes in the history of US politics, but replace ‘country’ with ‘network’ and you’ve got a great golden rule to keep in mind when building relationships.

As a young professional, here are 5 mindsets that I’ve (personally) found helpful:

1. Cut The Crap

This sounds incredibly basic. It is — but throw many of us into a room of people that we don’t know, and it’s amazing how quickly so many of us default to a sugarcoated safe zone. Don’t take a stance. Don’t be weird. Don’t offend. Quick, think of something to say!

We cannot create genuine relationships acting like anyone other than our genuine self. Otherwise, the person on the other side is beginning a relationship with someone who doesn’t exist. Try, and eventually one side will end up calling B.S. As humans, too much of the way that we think, internalize, process information and interact with others is innate and non-verbal.

Here’s another way to look at it: Would I want to get a job, or build a relationship on some persona that I had to constantly maintain? How exhausting of a slow death is that? When we are authentic, the expectations that others establish for us are aligned with who we really are. This builds success; success builds trust. Trust builds relationships.

2. Forget Selfish Hopes & Ambitions

Ambition (think ‘hunger’ or ‘drive’) is a great characteristic. Selfish ambition is not. When it comes to networking, check it at the door. Do you like being friends with people who are always seeking their best interests over everyone else’s? Does that motivate you to help them reach their goals? Do you even like talking to them? Nobody does.

Sitting down to a conversation, already asking what the other person will do for us, immediately creates a huge barrier of mind and emotion. It blocks our ability to get to know people authentically, actively listen to (and learn from) their life experience and understand how we may be able to add value to them. By focusing on what they’re going to offer you, you may well be missing the value that their experience can provide.

By putting the other person first, we proactively take the first step and set the selfless, collaborative precedent for the relationship. Motive is everything here. If you’re only acting like you care about adding value to others, just to fast-forward to the part where they get you what you want…reread number one.

3. Protect Those In Your Network

Professional relationships aren’t baseball cards. Real relationships are something to be respected. Building a deep network of people who believe in you and support you probably means having access to some unique people who have accomplished some amazing things. Respect them. Don’t go name-dropping people who have invested in you, just to try to impress and build on your own network.

Networks are meant to be used to connect people with similar invested interests, mentorship, etc. Just be thoughtful about who you connect people with and when. It’s all about the real value it may create.

4. Chill Out With The Competition

Ever been explaining something (what you do, a recent challenge you came across, etc) only to have it met with a competitive humble brag? While networking, there really should be no such thing as competition — only similar experiences.

Two ‘competing’ people in the same role could spend hours talking about why their product is better, their processes have the other’s buried and competitive shareholder devastation is imminent. Alternatively, imagine the similar experiences that they could relate to. Imagine the ways that they could benefit from sharing thoughts and dialogue from the journey they’ve both been on.

With networking, those with similar experience to you are unique opportunities to relate on a level that those outside of your role simply can’t.

5. Find The Anti-You

Chances are, in your professional role, you’re surrounded by others who are fairly similar to you. Other marketers, other account managers, other customer service reps, other executives. People who spend much of their time thinking and working on the same kinds of things that you do. It can be very easy to look up and realize that most of those around us are ‘from the same mold.’

While it can be extremely valuable to relate with people similar to us (see #4), the experiences of those who are nothing like us can be just as valuable — if not more.

Forming relationships with these people exposes you to things that you’ve never been able to understand. They’re like mini ambassadors for the careers, responsibilities, cultures and opportunities that are outside of your own.

It will only make you more well-rounded.

Wrapping It Up

I’m young and just learning these for myself. My hope is that by thinking about and continuing to learn the dynamics involved with these types of relationships, I (and maybe others) become more like relationship gardeners, rather than business card bazookas.

Like any relationship, networking as a young professional is proving to be about our ability to be genuine and proactively bring out the value in others.

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