OK, so that subtitle might be a little dramatic. But, let’s be real here, more than what it might cost to stock up on business cards, any time spent on something that’s not producing results for you is time that you could’ve spent somewhere else.
And, that opportunity cost can be very painful when you know you could’ve spent that time doing something that puts food on the table.
Now, the learning opportunities that come from bad networking are always worth their weight in gold. At the same time, when money’s tight, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the “luxury” of making mistakes because the cost is typically greater than the hit to your ego. All of that time you spent networking only to see no results could’ve been spent on another activity that helps you pay your bills.
Thankfully though, there is a right way and a wrong way to network. And, as long as you avoid the common networking advice that’s either outdated, ineffective, or downright wrong, you’ll be landing opportunities that grow your business and your income for as long as you choose to continue networking and maintaining your relationships.
So, let’s get started.
Avoid This Common Networking Advice To Avoid Losing Your Time and Money
#1. Pick their brain.
To understand why asking to pick someone’s brain is poor advice, let’s start with a lesson from sociologist, Lucio Buffalmano.
Buffalmano: “Many social relationships can be seen as big exchanges. For dating, there is a sexual marketplace, and for social relations, there is a social marketplace.”
The social marketplace is where social exchanges happen. And, Buffalmano says that, “Exchanges become all the more salient when you don’t have an established relationship (ie.: friendship, intimate relationship, blood lines, etc.)…[so] when you’re reaching out to strangers, it always pays to see it as an exchange.”
Buffalmano: “Learn the rules, and you will be immensely more effective and successful at life. On top of never coming across as awkward, annoying. But like a guy who ‘gets it’ and who people want to have around.”
So, if the way to succeed socially is by seeing new relationships with strangers as social exchanges, the question becomes, how do you properly operate within social exchanges to maximize your results?
Well, on this Buffalmano introduces the concept of the “What’s in it for them” rule.
Definition: “WIIFT is also called ‘What’s in it for them’ (often abbreviated as WIIFT), and it means that you are putting yourself in the other person’s shoes as you seek to make the exchange worth their while.”
Buffalmano explains this WIIFT rule so well, I’ll simply share his breakdown of it.
Buffalmano says, “When you take a WIIFT perspective, you seek to give something back [to give them incentives] for whatever you are asking [for], and you make it incredibly more likely that you’ll get what you’re asking [for] — and if not, you won’t come across as some socially thick guy who just asks.
WIIFT is not ‘cold,’ it’s the opposite: people who get the exchange nature of relationships have far better human relationships. Because they think about others, too. About other people’s needs and wants.”
And, since he puts it better than I could, Buffalmano also shares why seeking to “pick someone’s brain” is a bad strategy based on this WIIFT rule.
Buffalmano: “If for you it’s important to talk to someone and the relationship is obviously one where you ask, [and] they reply, it’s important that you also show you are willing to chip in something. [A common mistake is] ‘I wanna pick your brain’ [which] equals ’you will give me your time, sit there and answer all my questions (while I give you nothing)’.”
*Free guide: What’s in it for them guys, WIIFT, never forget it!
And, as a matter a fact, since we’re on the topic, the WIIFT rule is the very reason why you don’t want to invite them for coffee.
#2. Invite them to coffee.
The phrase “let’s have a coffee” (or anything resembling it) communicates that, in the middle of the day, right when they’re probably working, you want to have casual conversation while you ask them a ton of questions. And, just in case you decide to (or feel like you have to) pay, it will be cheap for you (because that’s probably what their input is worth anyway).
Put yourself in the shoes of the receiver who’s being asked this (as the WIIFT rule suggests). If you agreed to every coffee meeting — constantly finding yourself losing work because you’re busy drinking cheap coffee with a stranger who wants you to answer all of their questions and give you nothing in return — you’d probably get sick of being invited to coffee too.
#3. Play the host at your meetings.
NYT bestselling author, Ramit Sethi, who’s a networking expert in his own right, offers this piece of advice for networking. (And, since I love step-by-step processes, I’ll share his recommendation in that format.)
Host A Coffee Meeting:
- “Make sure you pick a location close to your VIP (ideally short walking distance). Coffee shops are the best.”
- “You want to look nice, but you don’t need to be dressed like a business professional (unless that’s what you wore to the office that day). I suggest business casual.”
- “Get there 15 minutes early to allow for parking and finding a good table.”
- “Pick a seat with a view of the door and wait there, but don’t order anything yet. (When in doubt, get there early and play on your phone — that’s always preferable to being late.)”
- “When they enter: Ideally you already know what they look like, but if not, you’ll notice if someone starts scanning the room. Let them make eye contact, smile and approach them. (Leave your non valuables behind [your jacket, bag, etc.] at your table so your seats don’t get taken.)”
- “Introduce yourself. (‘Kelly? Hi I’m John. Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming.’)”
- “Motion towards the cashier and start walking with them towards it.”
- Ask them, “I’m going to grab a cup of coffee. Can I get you something?”
- Regardless of their response, reply, “Cool. I grabbed a table for us over there [point to table].”
Now, Ramit Sethi’s networking advice is generally some of the best you’ll find around, including in his step-by-step process above. Many of the points in his steps are good to keep in mind such as avoiding showing up late and doing your best to avoid being under or overdressed.
But, there are a few flaws we can’t overlook.
You already know how I feel about his coffee shop recommendation. The main issue here though is that you’re being encouraged to play the host in a space where you’re not actually the host.
If you don’t know the power dynamics of the situation yet, the host is oftentimes viewed as the leader because it’s the host’s job to take care of others and manage the social situations he encounters as the host well. By being viewed as the leader this way, he is also viewed as one of the highest-status people in the room (because everyone else is, in a sense, “under his care”).
So, if you are indeed the host (for example, if you’re hosting a meeting in your home), then it’s great, value-giving behavior to act like it. That’s a part of making your guests feel welcome, comfortable, and like they’d want to come back again.
The problem is when you’re “playing” (acting like you’re) the host in a neutral location. Then, playing the host is no longer a nice thing to do, it’s a power move to make yourself look higher-status and like you’re the leader — without your contact having accepted your leadership yet. And, that’s bound to annoy anyone who understands those power dynamics.
To be more specific here, one potential power move that was recommended is:
Sethi: “Motion towards the cashier and start walking with them towards it.”
If done in a manner that’s power-unaware (unaware of the power dynamics around you), Buffalmano would refer to this as “guiding behavior.”
Buffalmano says, “Socially powerful men politely invite others to ‘be their guests’.
‘Be my guest’ signs include:
- ‘Follow me’ gestures or walking first
- Inviting to sit down
- Inviting to go through the door first”
An example from Buffalmano with Obama and Putin:
Obama asks Putin, “Where would you like to sit?” and shows Putin the way. And, instead of following his lead, Putin asserts dominance in Obama’s home (the White House) by walking from behind and showing Obama where he can sit.
That’s guiding behavior. And, it can seriously break rapport if you’re not careful.
The second power move that was recommended is this one:
Sethi: Say, “Cool. I grabbed a table for us over there,” and point to your table.
And, again, if done incorrectly, this move can rub people the wrong way.
More insights from Buffalmano:
“Any time people follow your lead, you are by definition acting as the leader.
Top politicians do it all the time, trying to guide each other.
A typical politician’s move upon first meeting looks like this:
- Shake hands.
- Place a hand on people’s back.
- Open up their body.
- Point to something in the environment.
What they’re trying to do is to have people follow their lead.
Of course, Trump heavily engages in this power move.
Here is a funny skit with Macron while they both try to lead each other (and end up being quite awkward)…”
Trump opens up his body and points to something on his left while, at the same time, Macron is opening up and trying to Make Trump follow on his left.
Buffalmano: “Note that Macron did it because this was in France, [so he was] ‘playing at home’. And Trump did it because he’s Trump and would do the same no matter where he is.”
So, if you follow this power move to point to your table and your contact notices what you’re doing, they probably won’t appreciate it.
*Psst…ideas on how to deal with these power moves in the free course on social strategies.
#4. Ignore the power dynamics.
Equally as bad as pulling power moves on others, might be letting others pull power moves on you. And, it could be equally as damaging to your status. (Plus, unfortunately, if your status plummets too low, people won’t want to connect with you.)
Something else that could harm your status though would be to simply let the power dynamics of the situation hurt you on its own by ignoring them.
For example, Sethi’s advice:
Sethi: “Pick a seat with a view of the door and wait there, but don’t order anything yet. (When in doubt, get there early and play on your phone — that’s always preferable to being late.)”
The longer you wait to see someone, the more you communicate that their time is more valuable than yours (otherwise you wouldn’t treat your time like it’s worthless by waiting around doing nothing).
So, a better option here might be to get there early and wait in your car until you can arrive at your scheduled meeting time. Or, pick that seat with the view of the door while busying yourself, not with games on your phone (something that can still be perceived as possibly “wasting time”), but with something productive such as an audiobook.
*Free guide: What To Do When Someone Makes You Wait
#5. Talk to as many people as possible.
The idea is that the more people you talk to, the more you increase your chances of meeting someone who could help you toward your goals and possibly change your life. Conversely, by missing out on talking to some people, you could be missing out on a potentially powerful connection.
And, that logic isn’t fully wrong. The issue with it is that it relies on a philosophy of working hard instead of working smart.
Really, you should be doing your research beforehand to identify who you want to connect with. Then, focus your networking on building relationships that go beyond the surface (beyond small talk) with those few people.
This maintains the rule of quality over quantity, and rightfully so. A network of 100 people who add no value to your life is a network of 100 (potential) takers if you’re the only one in that relationship with value to give.
#6. Follow the “Biggest Fan Philosophy.”
I’ve actually recommended adopting the “biggest fan philosophy” before.
In a nutshell, the “biggest fan philosophy” is the idea that you can give value on an emotional level by giving compliments they appreciate, making them look good in social situations, and other warm gestures that build them up and make them generally better off.
But, it still deserves to be said that it’s not called the “fan philosophy.” It’s called the “biggest fan philosophy.” And, there’s a right way and a wrong way to be someone’s biggest fan.
It’s OK to admire someone, but overdoing it by “gushing” at them can make you look like you admire them because you feel like they’re far above you. And, that makes you look way down beneath them (powerless), which makes you look like the kind of fan who doesn’t have much value to give (a potential taker).
Putting them on a pedestal can also backfire from an emotional value perspective too because:
- It puts them on a pedestal: which is an imbalanced relationship. And, good relationships are more balanced.
- It puts them in a cage: It banks the question of whether they are now forced to keep proving themselves as “different” and “special” (because otherwise they would risk losing your admiration). They don’t want to do that. They want to be free to act “normal.”
- It breaks rapport: people want to be understood and appreciated for who they are, as people. And people are often not that different. Overdoing your admiration puts them in an isolated category where you’re communicating that you feel they’re different (a category where they likely don’t want to be).
In case you were wondering, those three points were provided by sociologist Lucio Buffalmano as well. And, if you want more tips on how to avoid following the “biggest fan philosophy” the wrong way, check out the free guide below.
*Free guide: Don’t you ever tell people “you’re different”
#7. Play power games.
One day, a new friend of mine invited me to his “invite-only” business networking chapter.
It’s an exclusive club of high-status male and female businesspeople that has an annual fee of hundreds of dollars for membership.
This meeting was organized differently than what I’m used to. Everyone put their name, what they do, who they’re looking to be referred to, and their contact information in the chat.
I did the same, but forgot to put my contact information.
Later, someone dropped a message in the chat aimed toward me:
We’ll call this person “K.”
K gave me an order for everyone to see. And, even though I was planning to put my info in the chat anyway since I forgot (and I thought there might be some others who were interested), if I would have followed his order in front of everyone right then, I would have suffered a loss in status.
And, that’s because by following his order (which was “put your info in the chat”), I would be following his lead. And, as respectful as his order might’ve been with the “please,” I don’t work for him. So, following his order would’ve not only been unfair, but it would’ve made it look like he was above me to the rest of the group.
Unfortunately, that would’ve meant that more people would want to connect with him than me because it would look like he has more power and value to give.
So, I dropped my info in the chat as he instructed, but privately so only he could see. (And, I slipped in a slightly less dominant order of my own to rebalance things a little further when I said “read below.”)
After that, he pulled another power move in that meeting that made it clear he was something of a game-player. And, while it may seem like a good idea to try and use others as “social pegs” to step on to make yourself look better, it’s bound to annoy the high-quality individuals who can have the biggest impact on your life and business.
You won’t hear someone outright give you the advice to play power games, but you need to know that power moves have their place. And, overdoing it is a losing, counterproductive strategy.
#8. Disguise your ask for help as a favor.
Here’s another story to help underline this point.
One day, I got an email in my inbox. This was the email:
The “Our LinkedIn conversation” felt like a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, because we didn’t necessarily “conversate” because there was no back and forth.
So you can get a good analysis of his approach and social strategy (and idea of what he might’ve been able to do better), here’s the LinkedIn conversation he was talking about:
You’ll notice in the image of the email that I put a note that says “WIIFM.” That means “what’s in it for me,” and it’s good that he made sure to mention that because giving those incentives (which I highlighted) is a great social strategy.
The question is, what does he get out of this?
Notice how in the email he mentions everything about what I would get out of this partnership and nothing about what he would get? That raises a yellow flag in my head.
I figured they want me to manage a part of the app for them which would cost me my time. But, he didn’t say any of that in any of his messages.
So, am I supposed to assume that these guys want to just hand me money? That doesn’t sound too realistic.
So, I look through the PDF he said he attached. And, there it was:
It’s beginning to sound like they want me to pay them…to pay me.
And, the fact that I am only now hearing about the deposits (in the PDF I had to invest extra effort to carefully read and review) is concerning me. In the email and the LinkedIn messages, there was nothing about paying them at all.
So, this is starting to sound like another power game:
- Framing their ask for help (needing help and funding to build a successful geographical region here in the U.S. with their mobile app) as giving value (giving a partnership opportunity to send a lot of money and business relationships to me and only me).
And, as it turned out, when I asked for more information about what he was looking for in return, he kept dodging the question until the deal eventually didn’t work out.
It’s OK to ask for help. Making your requests look like “gifts” is only going to lose the respect of anyone who sees through that game.
#9. Ask them, “How can I help you?”
It’s a slick power move.
It doesn’t ask if there is a way that you can help them (such as by saying, “Is there any way I can be of help to you right now?”). It goes straight into assuming you can help them by asking how you can.
And, that can be annoying for many people because it implies that the person you’re talking to needs your help. “How can I help you” sub-communicates that you’re sure they must need your help because, if you were unsure, you would’ve checked to make sure first by asking if you could help them at all.
Instead, you’re assuming that there is a way you can help them. And, this question sets an expectation for them to answer with how you can help them — or, in other words, it implies that you want them to tell you about how they need you.
This is a power move that can easily get under the skins of others, especially if they’re farther ahead than you in life.
That’s all of the main advice to avoid — some of which are uncommon to read about but common to come across if you’ve been in the networking game long enough.
Do you know someone who has made any of these mistakes before? If you want to, share this article with someone you think could use it because that would be giving value. And, as we already know, giving value is a great way to build more (and deeper) relationships.
Thanks for reading!