Never Eat Alone

Since starting at Tocci as a business development associate in November, I’ve attended trade shows, coffees, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, galas, award nights, Holiday parties, and other things disguised as networking events. My issue with business development was that I didn’t want to become a networker. Don’t tell my boss. I hated the term. It sounded skeezy, and conjured images of a slick-haired guy walking into the room like a slippery, scheming version of the Fonz, with thumbs up, saying, “Aayyyy how can I use your connections to boost my image and build a stronger portfolio for my firm and me, me, me?”

I thought Networking was about who could be more selfish, more persuasive, more charming. And then I attended the first actual event.

It was a NAIOP panel (I’ve learned that we are obsessed with panels in this industry) at a nice hotel in Boston, with pleasant people who were all dressed up, and there was food, and there was coffee. (I’ve learned that I can’t have coffee in my cup all the time at these events because I will drink it. And I will fill up the cup again. And I will drink that. And I’ll do that until my hands shake, and my eyes will widen, and when we sit down, my foot will not stop moving, giving me the appearance of an insane man.) My most important take away from the real estate forecast was not a report, but the realization that the other attendees were absolutely nothing like the evil-Fonz, and that most people are good, normal people who are willing to help.

I’m reading a book about networking and building relationships called Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. He talks about the importance of approaching a relationship with the question, How can I help this person?, in mind. He says, “If I’m going to take the time to meet with somebody, I’m going to try to make that person successful.” It’s giving without the expectation of receiving. Forget about scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. You send me a gift basket over the holidays, and I’ll send you a gift basket over the holidays. (Make sure there’s nothing healthy in it! Make sure if there is something healthy, it’s at the bottom of the gift basket! So that in two weeks we can pull out a bunch of fuzz-covered stale grapes!)

Ferrazzi talks about a time when he asked a friend of a friend to introduce him to someone. The guy said something like, “I can’t because if I do then I won’t have the equity to ask for another favor later.” His logic sounds right if we’re looking at a relationship like a bank that you withdraw from and never deposit into. But because people aren’t banks, Ferrazzi uses the metaphor of a muscle: the more you work a muscle the stronger it becomes. The more you interact with someone — serving, helping, accepting help, the stronger your relationship with them becomes.

Naturally preceding accepting help, is asking for help. But we don’t like doing it. (Some people, it seems, like it too much, and we don’t want to be seen as needy.) Even though we don’t like asking for help—probably because we don’t like to humble ourselves by admitting that we can’t do it on our own—it’s an important thing to do. Benjamin Franklin says so.

In Franklin’s autobiography, he tells a story about a rival legislator who really does not like him. He hears about a book that this guy has in his library, and he writes a note to him asking to borrow it. He borrows it for a week, sends it back with a nice note, and the guy talks to him for this first time at the next meeting, “and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.” Slightly morbid turn at the end, but that’s an example of what is known as the Benjamin Franklin Effect. The person says, “Why am I doing this favor for this person? It must be because I like them.”

You do things for people you like. You work with people you like. You add people to your professional network on LinkedIn who you like. The realization that networking isn’t a gross term for using other people, has made a huge difference. It has shifted how I approach people and the subject of conversation and it influences future interactions.

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