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Stop thinking of business relationships as purely transactional

I got the graphic above from this post, which goes into a lot of nice detail about how to build relationships and network better.

That all seems like an important topic these days — jobs are becoming increasingly more and more of a fleeting commodity, but there’s no safety net in place. You need a way to get at those jobs. A standard hiring process will not be that way, because most hiring processes are an absolute train wreck made worse (awkwardly) by technology.

In such a context, with automation looming more and more, you need to be networking and building relationships more and more. It’s really important. Ironically, the rise of technology was supposed to reduce the impact of the “Old Boys Network,” but in many ways it’s probably made it more relevant. More digital noise = people rely on those they know/trust/played golf with the father of.

Problem is: most networking advice is completely trite, Captain Obvious-level bullshit. It’s the stuff of hastily-penned Inc articles that somehow garner 4,569 retweets. This is the same digital noise I was just mentioning.

This graphic above actually makes sense, because these truly are the four tiers of relationships in any professional (or personal) existence:

  • Unfamiliar (most people)
  • Familiar (casual/vague acquaintances or maybe people you’ve seen naked twice)
  • Intimate (closer, regular friendships or partners // you know what this means in a personal context)
  • Meaningful (these are the people you put it on the deck for personally and professionally)

Networking is probably best thought of as a movement, or navigation, from “unfamiliar” to “meaningful.” While that journey is rare — the back of the room to the stage — it can and does happen more than we think.

Moving through these stages

The article linked at the top goes into more detail, but here’s the basic breakdown:

Moving from unfamiliar to familiar: This would involve a shared context, i.e. becoming co-workers, attending a class together, meeting an event. It’s still small talk and largely superficial stuff at this point. The key is to stop talking about yourself and listen more.

Familiar to intimate: This has to involve some transfer of value. No one is going to take you into a deeper circle (personally or professionally) unless you show value to them. The unfortunate way we design most businesses right now is that “value” is some crappy eBook or 20% off coupon in exchange for an email address, and suddenly we think it’s an intimate bond where we can call/email/pester them all the time. That’s not what it is. An eBook, for example, really is a move from unfamiliar to familiar. It’s not this level. Unfortunately most marketing “strategies” miss that. This level is all about some kind of value. Do good work, offer deeper knowledge to a person, help them with a problem, etc.

Intimate to meaningful: For me, this is just taking the gestures of the transition above and doing them consistently. People become meaningful in your life because of shared value, effective communication, consistency, and loyalty. That’s pretty much it. If you are there for others and provide value and context, they are going to be there for you. (Well, ideally. It does not always work perfectly.) Meaningfulness comes with time, consistency, and value.

So what does this all mean for your next networking event?

Be yourself. Talk to people. Listen to people. Flutter in and out of conversations.

But stop thinking of everyone and everything as a transaction — a lead, a partner, a potential “deal.”

People are people.

How you deal with people is the levels and stages above.

It’s really that simple.

Just be human, be yourself, and work through it.

If you’re valuable (we all are in some way), you’ll find a spot.

Are you going to be a millionaire? No. Probably not.

But can you find something great by being yourself? Yes. You probably can.

Just remember: not every business dynamic is “a hot lead.”

Sometimes people are just people.

Embrace and work with that.

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Only part I struggle with is the concept that to be a meaningful relationship you must first be intimate. Perhaps a discussion on types of intimacy and how that is intended to be defined by the chart might help. But as a general rule – intimacy is not something I pursue with very many (if any) people. I still have many meaningful relationships.

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