Dale Carnegie once said, “talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours”.  This is the best approach to build your network and engage in meaningful discussions.

I frequently speak with clients who are apprehensive to build their networks during a job search because they feel that they are using others.  In a “give and take” society, these feelings are completely understandable.  To solve this dilemma, look no further than “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, one of the most popular human psychology books ever written.  Dale Carnegie’s sage advice gives you the answer – “Talk to someone about themselves and they will listen for hours.”  People love to talk about themselves, and if you provide them with the platform for doing so, they will feel like you are giving them something.  In addition, they will think you are smart, charming, amiable, and likeable.  Always make it about the other person.  Let them know you would love to learn about their career history, leadership style, important developmental experiences, future aspirations, and any advice they could give someone wanting to climb the ladder.  Remember, the key to networking is “it is not about you”.

During your conversation, an interesting phenomenon will occur.  In social psychology, it is called the “Law of Reciprocity.”  As mentioned earlier, you have given the other person the gift of talking about themselves.  At some point, they will feel as if they need to return the favor.  Often this shift will begin with a remark such as, “Enough about me.  Tell me about yourself.”  This is where your networking narratives will come into play.

At the end of your conversation, ask the person if there is anything you can do for him or her.  A good network conversationalist, in fact, will have been listening for opportunities during the conversation in which to show your interest.  Besides, it will be your turn to reciprocate, so you must also freely give them information, assistance, and advice that they are seeking.

This means taking the time to contact people periodically.  If you see an article that you think would be relevant for them or if you have several slides from a PowerPoint presentation you created, share it with them.  Be a good listener.  If you see a need, provide a personal contact, a website, an article, or an upcoming conference that may help them with an issue they are facing or a current project.  Doing so will likely reinforce your networking relationship.

Another manifestation of the “Law of Reciprocity” is that you will feel uplifted by helping others.  You may experience, as philosophers call it, “a self-approving joy.”  Most people, I believe, have an innate sense of altruism.  We enjoy helping others.  And when we do, we feel better about ourselves.  It is a joy that returns to the giver.  In a world of nay-sayers and negative-thinking people, it is a pleasure to be surrounded by eyes-on-the-horizon, glass completely full, power-of-positive-thinking people.  Some of that is bound to rub off.