We know building and maintaining professional connections is critical to growing your business. And it doesn’t have to be difficult or draining, says bestselling author and rock-star Wharton professor Adam Grant, but it does require some fresh thinking.
Plenty has been written in the past decade about how old-school approaches to corporate culture and office politics just don’t make sense any more. So, naturally, thought leaders are now taking a closer look at networking, and finding that the unspoken rules that have governed schmoozing and glad-handing for decades are ripe for a reboot. (Can we get an “Amen?) Leading this charge is organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant, who’s written three books about workplace behavior and given several TED talks on the subject. Here are three of our favorite pearls of Grant-inspired wisdom, all of which you can press into action right away:
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Say “Thank You” now … and later: Grant often talks about the power of appreciation, and he likes to start those conversations with a quote from Andy Bernard, Ed Helms’ character on The Office: “You do me a favor … bam! Thank you note! Do not test my politeness.” Of course, sending an immediate thank-you to someone who has given you advice or insight is the appropriate thing to do. But, says Grant, there’s real, and greater value to circling back after you’ve had a chance to put a mentee’s advice into action. “The most meaningful notes I’ve received often come months or even years down the road, because I get to hear the story of what impact I had,” Grant told Jocelyn Glei, host of the “Hurry Slowly” podcast. “It’s a reminder that the time you spend with people is meaningful to them in ways you never foresee. I would love to see a movement toward delayed gratitude.” As a bonus, reaching out after time has passed provides an organic reason to reconnect in the event the relationship has gone dormant.
Start with sincerity: “Authenticity” is the buzzword du jour, stemming from the idea that you’re more likely to establish genuine connections and lasting relationships by being yourself rather than relying on fake flattery. But Grant warns against taking the term “authentic” too literally. “Nobody wants to see your true self,” he wrote in a 2016 New York Times Op-Ed. “We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken.” Not that he’s suggesting you become a fraud, either: The sweet spot is sincerity, as illustrated by a series of lectures the critic Lionel Trilling delivered in the early 1970s. “Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them,” Grant writes, “Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.”
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Always bring something to the table: Traditional growth through network development often depends on a power imbalance—an entrepreneur courts an investor for funding, or a friend’s kid asks his mom’s former classmate for “guidance.” In a 2017 New York Times op-ed, Grant challenged this dynamic. “It’s true that networking can help you accomplish great things,” he writes. “But this obscures the opposite truth: Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.” For example, Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, didn’t build a PowerPoint to convince Oprah to invest in her company. Instead, Blakely manufactured a batch of the footless pantyhose she’d been developing and sent a pair to Oprah, who added the garment to her list of favorite things. “Do something interesting,” says Grant, “and instead of having to push your way in, you’ll get pulled in. The network comes to you.”
Adds the good professor: “Achievements show you have something to give, not just something to take.”