Why Give and Receive Networking is a Mistake

festival backgroundIt’s probably fair to say that giving has long been a core tenet in diverse religious and moral codes. In fact, charity, or almsgiving, is typically regarded as an act of virtue which leads to societal as well as individual greatness. Even today, there is wide recognition of the benefits of giving. We’re naturally generous with friends, family, and business associates. Yet, we also donate to causes, we give back, we pay forward, or we lend a hand.

And while our generosity makes life better for the beneficiary, it also makes life better for us. It makes us happier and healthier. Insofar as giving freely benefits all involved it’s a good thing, especially as it establishes a virtuous circle that promotes greater joy.

The Perversion of Generosity

Unfortunately, the fundamental principle of generosity can become perverted, and often is. Business / career networking is a case in point. Perhaps there is no better example of an activity where quid pro quo is the rule built into nearly every interaction. You know. Help me get what I want, and I’ll help you get what you want.

Actually, as I was reminded in a post on “give and receive” networking, there is a new twist on that rule. And it’s to give often and unconditionally. Frankly, I think it’s misguided advice. Sure, the author of the post seemed well intentioned, and did a good job of setting expectations, including the meaning of unconditionally giving, not expecting help to come directly from a given individual you’re helping, and remaining open to help that may arrive unexpectedly from any source.

And yet, her conclusion was that it’s more fun when you approach networking as a game of give and receive. It made me think that this only corrupts generosity that’s meant to be unconditional. It creates the expectation that your unconditional giving will flow back to you, some day, in some way. It seems principled, but it keeps you locked in a game that remains the same.

Games Without End

Albert Einstein famously stated that no problem can be solved at the level at which it was created. While many of us believe we know what he meant, we mostly don’t. Fortunately, the three therapists who wrote Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution do explain it.

Drawing on the field of mathematical logic, the authors explain that groups operate in a way that preserves the integrity of their rules. Any effort to produce change from inside the context of the group can only result in an outcome dictated the rules. The system “…cannot generate from within itself the conditions for its own change; it cannot produce the rules for the change of its own rules.”

So, a game of give and receive will remain a game of give and receive. Operating by those rules keeps us forever at their mercy. In other words, unless we find a way to change the rules – and we won’t – we’ll be caught in a continual flow of transactions in which we give with the hope that we’ll someday get. And even if we receive, we’re at risk of being trapped in a game without end.

Leave the Game

Of course, we could always leave the game. We could abandon the illusion that all the selfless giving will benefit us in the long run. To accomplish this we need make a second-order change. In explaining this, Change authors draw on another theory in logic. While the explanation they offer is somewhat abstract, they are really talking about change of change. And perhaps the simplest and clearest example they offer is this:

“The one way out of a dream involves a change from dreaming to waking. Waking, obviously, is no longer a part of the dream, but a change to an altogether different state. This kind of change will from now on be referred to as second-order change.”

So, if the game of giving and receiving is the dream – and very often it is – the best solution is to wake up. That is, exit the game. Because only then can you make higher level changes that will have a positive impact.

Elevate Your Success In Life

Because give and get exchanges keep you focused on transactions, it becomes too easy to overlook the inherent value of relationships in and of themselves. Remaining forever focused on getting what you want traps you in a pursuit that may have limited benefits, no matter how much you give.

Worse, the game can keep you from developing relationships that are consistent, reasonably intimate, and create bonds based on shared experiences. In short, friendships that spark joy, and can contribute to living successfully across all parts of your life. And should you need help, it’s friends who are most apt to rally to support you. Why? Because they already know, like, and trust you.

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Being a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, mutual support, and enhanced well being.

You just need to wake up!

Some Thoughts On Restoring Personal Vitality

IMG_8788Recently, I was sorting through some photos and was struck by the quirkiness of one in particular. It’s a photo of our cat Einstein giving me a quizzical look. For whatever reasons, this shot always provides me a little reminder to focus on what’s important in life.

Frankly, I’ve always felt as though I was doing that. But then I hit a wall, and realized I could do better. Here’s what happened:

This past June, I spent the better part of my birthday on a pre-op appointment, and a few days later had foot surgery; and that was followed by more than six weeks of recovery. I had chosen to keep my client work to a minimum, and to spend my days reading. Perhaps it was the sudden change of pace, my recent birthday, or maybe my wife’s comment about how the change would be like being retired, but this was the first time in my life I felt truly old. Not just old, actually, but in a slump.

It was not a good feeling, and sparked some reflection on what it would take to re-energize.

Learning To Let Go

I’ve long realized that everything we have in life has a cost. Fundamentally, we trade our time for possessions, experiences, learning, and even relationships. Mostly, this is a good thing. After all, most of us truly do enjoy what comes into our lives, most especially our relationships.

Yet, there does seem to be an outside limit on satisfaction; and a time to let go. [Tweet this]

But letting go is hard, at least for me. So, I was fortunate to discover, read, and start applying the principles Marie Kondo presents in her excellent The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What amazed me was how her simple standard of joy could be so powerful. Specifically, Kondo advises that in tidying up, you hold each item you own and ask if it sparks joy. If not, thank it for it’s service and let it go!

Seems to me like a great standard for deciding what to keep in life: If there is no joy in it, let it go! [Tweet this]

Yes! Of Course There’s More

Frankly, in itself, seeking joy is not a sufficient basis for satisfaction in life. In fact, if we only strive to be happy, we’re bound to be disappointed. As Tom Rath points out in his excellent Are You Fully Charged? pursuing happiness is shortsighted. Rather, happiness is a by-product of pursuing meaning, especially in activities that make a difference for others.

Yet, as I’ve advised clients it takes work. As Rath puts it:

“Meaning does not happen to you — you create it. One of the most important elements of building a great career and life is attaching what you do each day to a broader mission. Until you understand how your efforts contribute to the world, you are simply going through the motions each day.”

While creating meaning sets the broader context for an energized life, your personal vitality also benefits from your daily practices. While these can differ from person to person, here, based on Rath’s work as well as other resources, are five ideas that you may find beneficial:

Harness the Power of Intrinsic Motivation. When we think of motivation, most of us tend to tie it to external outcomes, like earning a paycheck. Yet, we’re also motivated by internal factors, and do things because we want to do them. While both forms of motivation work, it turns out that intrinsic motivation is much more powerful, a fact well documented by Dan Pink in his fascinating book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In applying this to your personal vitality, start to focus more energy on the things you want to do – both at work and in other parts of your life.

Take Control of Your Health and Well-Being. Controlling your health and well-being may seem like it involves too much work, change, and discomfort. And confusion! Frankly, we’re exposed to so much conflicting health information it’s hard to know where to start! Yet, according to Rath, it all comes down to some basic management of how we eat, move, and sleep. If you like, you can find detailed information in his Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. You can make a project out if it, and it would be worthwhile. In the meantime, I found using a fitness tracker not only provides data to show how you’re doing but can also fuel your motivation to do better.

Cultivate Friendships. Most of us realize that relationships are important to business and career success. So, we network. Yet, nurturing friendships is even more important to living a satisfying and successful life. After all, friendships have health as well as social benefits. On some level, we all need to find belonging and are better off when we do. Investing time in creating friendships, both in person and online, can have a big positive impact on your personal vitality.

Focus On the Before and After of Experiences. It’s not possessions but life experiences that support a happier life. No doubt you’ve heard that, as it’s an idea that’s been around since the ancient times! Yet, recent research on spending habits indicates that purchasing experiences, especially with other people, enhances well-being. What’s more, it turns out that more than the experience itself, anticipation and memory make a greater contribution to overall well-being. So, make sure to enjoy planning and remembering as well as the doing!

Be Ready to Respond to Stress and Hardship. No doubt about it, no matter how well things may be going, we all face occasional hardships. The trick is to realize that you already have or can develop resilience skills. In fact, if you’re already managing your personal vitality, you’re well on your way. Still, helpful resources are not hard to find.

Why You Could Be Wrong To Hate Facebook

iStock_000035142008_MediumAbout three months ago, a friend of mine commented on social media that she was scaling back her activity, allowing her some refreshing anonymity. Because we’re friends, I know the life events driving her choice. Yet, it also occurred to me that we wouldn’t be friends today, if it weren’t for social media.

Of course, while meeting new people and developing meaningful relationships is still possible, social media has changed.

Based on a recent eulogy of twitter, as well as from personal experience, it seems we’ve left Twitterville behind. It sure seems that social media is different, and it’s future ain’t what it used to be. [Tweet this] Certainly, my friend continues to maintain presence on the social media platforms she’s been on, even if she’s scaling back her participation. Yet, there are whole groups of people who do choose to opt out of various social media platforms – especially Facebook!

 No Names Required

Let’s face it. Lots of people hate Facebook. [Tweet this] Not only is Facebook merely hated, but there has emerged an alternative social media platform that seems to hold itself morally superior. That platform is Ello. Actually, I base my sense of the founders’ lofty sense of self-worth on their manifesto which, among other views, states:

“Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.”

I told you it’s lofty. It’s also idealistic. But it makes Ello seem detached from reality. [Tweet this]

So much of what Ello rejects about Facebook are the kinds of social hooks that help people identify common views, interests, and activities. And no matter what your feeling on the ads and commercial elements on Facebook, we actually get to know about people by seeing what pages they like, the content they share, videos they watch, the products they buy, and more. Which I think is a lot like how we get to know people in “real life.”

Nor do I think Ello’s position on privacy is based in reality. After all, if you have a credit card, have banking and investment accounts, fly on airlines, shop online, or join loyalty programs, the data you generate is already being sold. What’s more, you don’t need to be on Facebook to get ads displayed to you. [Tweet this] They already show up in your e-mail inbox. So, it seems to me you face a challenge to stop it all; that is, unless you want to go off the grid.

I’ve tried Ello, and am not particularly thrilled. Valuing simplicity, Ello presents a very clean (if poorly designed) environment. Perhaps too clean. Unlike Facebook, Ello makes no suggestions. Since it doesn’t track my activity, it doesn’t know me. Nor does it know anyone else. In this sense, Facebook is like that friend who introduces you to new people. Ello is a disinterested bystander. [Tweet this]

Perhaps, though, the biggest objection I have is Ello’s no name policy. Specifically:

“You have the right to be anyone you want. You’re safest when you control what you disclose on a social network. You should not be required to give your real name, age, sex, race, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, education, home address, or any other personal information which could be sold to third parties.”

While there are some people for whom this may make sense, it makes it really hard to build relationships with others. After all, if I don’t get to know who you really are, how can I trust you? If I don’t trust you, how can I feel comfortable sharing with you information about myself? [Tweet this]

A World That Doesn’t Exist

I don’t want to imply that every one who gets fed up with Facebook skips over to Ello. Some simply chose to delete their accounts. In fact, the author of a LinkedIn post I just read, as well as many of the commenters, have simply deleted their Facebook accounts. Why? Well, in the case of the author: “I’m tired of wasting my time and energy interacting with a world that doesn’t exist.”

He goes on to explain that his decision was based on a recognition that Facebook had become an addiction for him, saying he found himself checking it constantly. Worse, he says:

“Facebook gave the illusion of engaging with others. Of course it allowed me to engage with a vast audience comprised mostly of people I never see and don’t care all that much about.”

He’s okay with LinkedIn, though, where he has 500+ connections. Of course, it made me wonder about the actual existence of his LinkedIn world. Yet to be fair, based on the balance of his post, my impression is that he’s more oriented to publishing his ideas than he is to building relationships. I’m actually okay with that.

Real People, Real Lives

What I’m not okay with, though, is the dismissal of Facebook as a “world that doesn’t exist.” [Tweet this]

Whatever you may feel about Facebook – or LinkedIn, or Twitter, or Instagram – it’s populated with real people who lead real lives. FriendsPeople who have challenges and aspirations, just like you do. If you don’t care about them, it’s really your issue. It doesn’t make them less real. Yet, if you regard them as real people and take an interest in them, you may find that you can make real friends in a digital world.

Still, if you find that Facebook – or any other platform – doesn’t bring you joy, break it off. But you may also need to acknowledge this: “It’s not you, it’s me.” Because it usually is.

Beyond Networking: Creating Supportive and Lasting Friendships

Making FriendsWhen was the last time you made an effort to brush up on your networking skills?

Well, if you’re in job search or trying to improve your ability to connect in business situations, your appetite for networking help may be related to the level of pressure you feel to get results. Fortunately, networking tips are not hard to find, and there are some excellent books that can help you. Of course, there are some great online resources too. In fact, my friend, Ora Shtull, posted a helpful video on using body language to enhance likeability. Great tips, and well worth checking out!

Yet, it’s what Ora said at the end of her video that really caught my attention. She said: “Let’s make sure our body language matches our words and intentions.” In a comment to her post, I noted that how we frame our intentions can be a big influence on how we experience meeting others. More often than not, openness and a genuine curiosity about people can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and building rapport. When we create an internal frame of receptivity, meeting others can become much more enjoyable. [Tweet this]

How Can I Help You?

Unfortunately, that’s not how most individuals approach it. Most are reluctant to meet new people. Until they have to. [Tweet this] In fact, based on what I’ve seen in my career consulting work, it’s often some need – often desperate – that gets people to reach out to forge new contacts. So, they brace themselves to venture out to networking events and other meetings to connect.

Some still work the room, leaving a trail of business cards in their wake. By now, however, most people realize that coming across as too needy or too aggressive can be a turn off. So, they seek to avoid appearing to be someone who is merely using people. To that end, most people follow the advice of networking advisors who suggest uncovering needs, and to lead with giving. In fact, recently, this idea has taken on such momentum that some see it as a paradigm shift from taking to giving.

While the intent is admirable, I don’t believe most people carry this out particularly well. Frankly, I become uncomfortable when someone I barely know follows up a meeting or an online interaction with an offer to help me. Call me cynical, but my first thought in these instances is, “What do you want?” That’s often followed with me thinking that if I need help, I’ll turn to my friends.

As I see it, networking has typically been about getting what you want. In the process, you may be willing to help others get what they want. In other words, it tends to be transactional. Friendship, however, allows for helping each other get what we each want – without the forced reciprocity. [Tweet this]

To be fair, Selena Soo, an advocate for leading with giving, takes a long-term view. That is, by being proactive in meeting people daily, and then nurturing these relationships, you’ll build good will and trust. Sounds to me like sowing the seeds of friendship!

Mere Exposure

Incorporating this longer-term approach into daily life makes sense. But how? Fortunately, not every situation is a networking event. Life presents us with many natural opportunities to meet others. And in situations were people are consistently exposed to each other, it’s often easier to connect.

Almost magically, through mere exposure, whether in person or online, the barriers come down and relationships get started. Familiarity, it seems breeds not contempt but likeability. [Tweet this] With consistent exposure we get opportunities to reduce our anxieties and break through barriers to establishing new relationships. Often, at a comfort level and pace that can work for us as well as the other person.

While the level of intimacy in these budding relationships may be low, consistency leads to what Shasta Nelson calls Contact Friends, that is, people with whom we are friendly when we see them in a shared context, say at a class or in an online group. Over time, consistency and growing intimacy allows these friendships to mature.

Cultivating Both Happiness and Success

In her book, The How of Happiness, among other practices, one happiness habit Sonja Lyubomirsky identifies is nurturing social relationships. More recently, Gary Vaynerchuk made this point in a compelling way that applies to both life in general and to business in particular:

“How we cultivate our relationships is often the greatest determinant of the type of life we get to live.  Business is no different.   [It] … happens in the small, personal interactions that allow us to prove to each other who we are and what we believe in, honest moments that promote good feelings and build trust and loyalty.  When given the choice, people will always spend their time around people they like. When it’s expedient and practical, they’d also rather do business …[with]… people they like.”

Friends enjoying the viewClearly, the level of success we attain in life most often depends on our ability to earn the positive regard of others, and to establish the kind of intimacy that leads to satisfying and sustainable relationships. Of course, while developing friendships seems like it should be natural, they don’t just happen. [Tweet this] They start with intentionality, but also take attention, interest, and sharing; and as trust grows, more transparency.

Take Small Steps

Certainly, there are some basics for relating to other people that work both in person and online. In fact, your mom probably taught you some of these. Yet, I think that fundamental to establishing relationships is draw out (or maybe nurture) your spirit of generosity and genuine interest.

When you take an interest in other people, they take notice. And more often than not, they take an interest in you. [Tweet this] But let’s face it; too much interest too soon is simply creepy. Rather, it’s important to do this in small steps. With care, you can make friends, even in a digital world.

Take that long view, and get started. Your life will be better for it!

Why It’s Important To Find Belonging

“I want my real life to be as fun as the one I paid for.” ~ Doug Harris (Josh Gad)

Group Of Friends Enjoying Drink At Outdoor Rooftop BarI don’t know about you, but sometimes we rent movies that we think of as mindless entertainment. They can be fun, but often not enlightening. So, it always amazes me, on those rare occasions, when one of these movies makes a great point.

So it was with the Kevin Hart movie, The Wedding Ringer. In it Kevin plays Jimmy Callahan, a “wedding services consultant” who provides best man services for guys without friends. In the process he shows his client, Doug Harris, played by Josh Gad, what having a full life can be like! Not only does Jimmy serve as best man, but assembles a misfit group of groomsmen, throws him a bachelor party, and in the process shows Doug the best time of his life!

It got me thinking how important friends and a feeling of belonging are to living a full life.

Unfortunately, as Gad’s character discovers, keeping our relationships narrowly focused on work can be a big mistake. And too many of us are guilty of it. Often, we let an obsession with becoming better networkers hold us back from building longer and stronger relationships. [Tweet this] That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage.

Make A Diverse Array of Friends

As I see it, we do well to recognize opportunities to make friends in a variety of situations, both in person and online. In some cases, doing so can mean stepping outside your comfort zone to put yourself “out there.” Yet, since most people focus mostly on building relationships related to business, let’s consider friends at work.

In his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, business, health, and well-being author Tom Rath points out that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction! [Tweet this]

Add to these findings, the perspectives of his latest book, Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, and you begin to see the impact of meaningful human interactions and relationships on the quality of your life.

Don’t limit yourself to work friends, though. Let’s face it variety is the spice of life, and this is true of relationships.  So, seek out friends from a diverse array of ages, genders, ethnicities, and locations. Interacting with people from around the world can broaden your perspectives, and enrich your human experience. [Tweet this] Fortunately, this is much easier than ever in today’s social media rich world.

It Comes Down To Belonging

Friendship comes down to belonging. Yet, although “circle of friends” is a well known metaphor, we don’t often think of the groups of people to whom we “belong.” Perhaps it’s because too many of us still cling to the distinction of friends and acquaintances. [Tweet this] While we think of friends as people who we can trust and rely on, acquaintances are “just” people we know. Frankly, this is not a helpful distinction.

A better distinction is one made by GirlFriendCircles.com founder Shasta Nelson, who sees five circles of friendship based on levels of consistency and intimacy. In her model:

  • Contact Friends are people we are friendly with when we see them in a shared context, say at a class, but with whom we share little intimacy.
  • Common Friends are people with whom share a common activity, but also with whom we make an effort to expand the relationship, and who make the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom we have expanded our relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.Three mature ladies smiling
  • Committed Friends are people with whom we have intimately and consistently shared our lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  •  Confirmed Friends are people with whom we share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when our connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes easier to see our various relationship circles. And when we can see that it becomes easier to enhance our belonging across multiple circles of friends.

Why Bother?

Studies show that belonging enhances your well-being. Yet, if you need a more pragmatic reason, consider this: When you belong, you don’t usually need to worry about getting help from others. You just ask. And naturally, you’re always ready to return the favor. So, imagine if this were true in every part of your life – from getting support for your fitness goals to finding new work. Whatever it is, the support of others helps you be successful at much of what you want to achieve in life.

So, as Doug Harris discovered, imagine how great your life would be if you enhanced your belonging across all your circles of friendship.