Real Networking Should Not Be a Game of Go Fish!
Let’s play a simple card game – one that you probably remember from your childhood, or maybe you have played with kids as an adult.
Lori L. Garrett
You and I are dealt seven cards each out of a standard deck. The remaining cards are placed face-down in a random pile. You go first. You ask, “Will you please give me the seven of hearts?” I check my hand, and I have the seven of hearts. I give it to you and you get to go again.
This time you ask me to give you the seven of diamonds. I have that too. I hand it over.
Next you ask me for a seven of spades. “Go fish!” I reply.
Now it’s my turn. I ask you for the two of spades. You don’t have it, and let me down hard with a loud “Go fish!” My turn is over. We go back and forth like this until someone has the most matched sets, or gets rid all their cards.
What does a game of Go Fish! have to do with networking? Go Fish! is a matching game of take. Your sole purpose in talking to others is to take their cards to help yourself. You are taking notes on what others need primarily in an effort to help yourself. In some versions of the game, you can ask the same person over and over again to give you cards, without ever giving anything in return. Go Fish! is exactly the antithesis of real networking.
Real networking is a matching game of give and take, but should include more giving than taking. It’s about getting what you want, but also making sure that others get what they want, too. Real networking is about building authentic relationships with people, not for what a person can do for you, but for how you can support each other.
In addition to only thinking about taking, another big mistake in networking is not thinking “long term” or “relational.”1 Real networking is about using a short period of time to create a connection that might span a relatively long period of time. You accomplish this task by getting in touch with what you may have in common with the other person. Then you are able to walk away from the conversation with something tangible—the very beginnings of a relationship—and where that might lead is endless!
But you do not have to take my word for it. I asked a few friends of MCCA who are in decision-making positions in the legal departments of major corporations about what motivates them to connect with a person they have just met. Here is a little of what I learned.
I see it as an opportunity to “pay it forward.” When I meet a talented and inspiring person, and I can play even a small part in actively helping and supporting that person, then I’m excited about the opportunity to positively impact his or her life. I strongly believe that we need to further progress and improve the diversity and inclusiveness in our profession. A very important part of that is supporting the network of dedicated professionals who comprise MCCA.
Among the most effective ways to forge a connection with someone new is to be a good listener—don’t just talk “at” someone; instead, engage her in a two-way dialog and listen with an attentive ear. Look for connections—mutual friends, colleagues, or experiences. If you know someone will be at an event and you want to target her, then learn something first about her business or background. I don’t find it off-putting if someone is specific about what he wants from me, or what he has to offer my business. Follow up with a note or an email to continue to build the relationship.
– Vaughn Phillips, Managing Counsel, Shell Legal U.S., Shell Oil Company
[I am motivated by] a genuine connection with the person or, in some cases, an issue on which the person may be working. For instance, if I meet someone who is funny, interesting, and dynamic, and she happens to be an expert in an area of interest, then I am more likely to favorably consider her as a potential resource. However, if I meet someone who, immediately following the introductions, leads with a detailed description of her firm bio or her practice group, without ever emphasizing her personal interests or attributes, I would not be motivated to maintain any connection.
– Tekedra M. Jefferson, Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy, AOL
I am always interested in meeting early-career (3-7 years) female minority lawyers. Mentoring is a two-way street, and I get so much more from this group than they get from me. They keep me connected [and] young, and they like the same music I do! Seriously, I want to help people succeed who are like what I once was.
At this year’s MCCA General Counsel Invitational Diversity Leadership Summit event, I connected with a couple of attorneys that I know I will follow and hope to keep connected with. One young woman approached me about moving “in house,” and I was happy to give her some pros and cons, and to discuss her strengths and what she can “market” to in-house departments. Another attorney practices in an area that I need to develop at Office Depot—I have already put my team in touch with him. As I said, mentoring is a two-way street. I am pleased that I was able to provide a mentoring opportunity to my in-house team from a true expert minority lawyer from another company!
– Elisa D. Garcia C., Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Office Depot, Inc.
If you are really networking, then you are using the opportunity of meeting someone new as an opportunity to give something. The alternative—playing a version of Go Fish! by trying to find a quick match, asking for something you need and then only taking—does not work. How different would your next networking event feel if you approached it as a giver and not as a “fisherman?” DB
1 See Molly Peckman, Networking: The Basics and Beyond for Lawyers, The Legal Intelligencer, Mar. 30, 2010, available at www.law.com/jsp/pa/PubArticlePA.jsp?id=1202445509678 (visited May 15, 2010).
Lori L. Garrett is managing director for MCCA’s southeast region. She heads MCCA’s professional development services.
From the July/August 2010 of Diversity & The Bar®