I see a lot of networking and social skills advice that says, “Don’t go looking for something from people, rather, offer ways in which you can help them.”
Sounds good, right?
But the problem is that people use this as a hard and fast rule. Their tweeting everybody and their mother asking them how they can be of any assistance, and completely miss the guideline; which is to be selfless, thoughtful, and kind.
Like the world of health and fitness, social skills cannot be developed with black-and-white rules; it’s a nuanced skill, and what works for some will not work for others.
So when we use advice like “offer people help” as a hard and fast rule, it can actually come back to hurt us. This is because rules don’t work, but guidelines do.
The point of this post is to move you away from rules, and towards guidelines. A rule is a script or black-and-white statement like, “say ‘How can I help you?'”
A guideline is a framework we can work from, and add our own little pizazz and flavor to.
Just because I use Harvey Spector’s words, doesn’t mean I’ll become suave and confident. I would likely just come off as arrogant, or worse, a total cheeseball.
The whole point of the “How can I help you?” advice is to not come off as transactional and needy (the guideline), yet people still come off transactional and needy. Why? Because they follow the rule.
Check it out.. Here’s what happens when you use the “How can I help?” line:
1) They don’t know you. Sure, it’s great to be helpful, but they’re not asking for help. They’re chillin, thinking about that awesome burger they had last night, and the hottie in the corner.
When you ask, “How can I help?” it comes off as odd because how are they suppose to know? They don’t know you. They don’t know your skills. They didn’t even know they needed your help, and frankly, they probably don’t want it.
Relationships take time to establish, so when you approach somebody and offer help, you’re still a stranger. For all they know, you’re just some guy with bad breath who doesn’t understand personal boundaries.
2) It still comes off as transactional. Those who use this line in the business world are still only offering because they hope that they will get some help in return in the future. It’s tit for tat. And that’s not cool, man.
3) If they need help, it’ll come up.
Just the other day, I was in the backyard with my neighbor Sean, having a beer or three, talking shop, and I mentioned that I was headed to Chicago in the morning. He then offered to drive me there rather than having me take an Uber. A situation came up where I needed help, and he kindly offered (a natural occurrence between two people with an established relationship).
You’ll have many opportunities to help people who need help: friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike. You’ll see how you can help, rather than asking people to make something up for you to do.
Okay, now that I’m done ripping apart well-intentioned networking advice, let me help with offering a new way to look at making connections and friends.
Below are three guidelines to consider. Guidelines are different than rules in that they leave space for nuance. Rules are literal. Guidelines are general.
Try these things in your own life and see that they 1) work and 2) aren’t as awkward as that one time I suggested that we all start drinking to some good-ole, value-instilled, Christian folk.
1) Show Love
Girls seem to be so much better at this than men.
“I love your shoes.”
“Wow, you’re so good at that.”
Genuine compliments, that you actually believe, come off authentic, and actually make people like you more. If you like their outfit, say so. If you thought that party trick was cool, say that. If they killed that presentation, show some genuine love.
Ultimately, people want to feel valued and appreciated. When you’re the one to scratch that itch, you’re more likeable, which means that when there comes the time when you need some help, you’ll get it.
People are way more likely to help those they like.
You don’t lose any face by showing genuine love and giving compliments to people. It doesn’t make you any less talented or awesome. Look for ways that people are really killing it in life, and tell them so.
2) Link Interests
Research shows that people like people like them. Wait, does that make sense? We like people who are similar to us. That’s better.
If they look like us, talk like us, or like the same terrible basketball team as us (Where are my Wake Forest Demon Deacon fans?), we’re more likely to connect and vibe with them.
Here’s the tricky part though, we’re not going to click with everybody, AND THAT IS OKAY.
There’s plenty of people who could really help my business and website thrive, or help me become cooler, richer, or smarter, but we can’t get on the same wave length.
I think it’s weird to spend 8 hours playing Dungeons and Dragons, and those same gamers think it’s pathetic and dumb to watch NCAA Basketball for 80 hours in March.
Differences are not only fine, they’re a good thing. I think my family would agree, one Danny Coleman ego is enough in this world. Show them pieces of yourself. Share your interests, ask if they saw that thing on TV, or get a feel for what they like.
Try to connect over things you have in common. That’s how relationships form
3) Share Goodies (articles, resources, underwear, etc.)
If you see something that makes you think of someone, share it with them. Send them a tweet of a quote they might like, email them an article that might help them out, text them a pic of this cute baby seal.
One thing I try to do with all of my clients is send them a random article or text about something that reminds me of them. This has been huge in building relationships.
I read that former CEO of Campbell Soup, Doug Conant wrote up to 20 handwritten notes per day to his employees, and retired president of Wachovia, Ben Jenkins, was known to take one employee out to lunch every week.
This guideline comes back to the fact that people want to feel thought of and appreciated. They want to feel valued. When you share things with them, they feel valued, and generally feel good towards you.
Do you see how these things are not as simple as “Do X, and get Y”?
They are proven strategies that leave room for you to do your thing. Social skills are not as simple as, “Offer to help somebody, get free sandwiches.” There’s nuance and flexibility involved. It’s not transactional.
On your next date, or your next networking event, try moving away from rules and towards guidelines, and see if you can make more genuine connections.
Stop following rules, and try frameworks and guidelines. What are some social skill guidelines of your own? Let me know if the comments below.