The Chinese term guanxi literally means relationships or connections. More precisely, the word refers to relationships that are mutually beneficial to both parties through a system of voluntary reciprocal obligations. In short, "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." In fact, these types of relationships are so important to the Chinese that failure to reciprocate is unforgivable and may result in the loss of honor for both parties. Ultimately, you have good guanxi if you can solve problems (such as finding a job) by utilizing your personal network.
In her excellent 2012 STC Summit session, "Building Your Professional Network--Beyond the Social Media Maze" (available on Slideshare), Jenna Moore provides the following definition of networking that is very similar to the guanxi concept:
|"What is a Network?" slide from Summit presentation|
In her definition, and throughout her presentation, Moore emphasizes collaboration among contacts, common interests, and mutual benefit. In other words, you have to help others before you can expect to receive help.
But how do you build and cultivate these types of mutually beneficial networks? How can you later call upon (or "harvest") the network to solve a problem?
Building Your Network
Moore presented the following easy-to-follow step-by-step process anyone can use to generate a list of potential networking contacts:
- List all professional, academic, volunteer, or civic positions/offices you've ever held.
- Think up some contacts from each position listed in Step 1 (including social contacts).
- Write down where you want your career to go over the next five years.
- Use the names in Step 2 to generate a list of contacts who can help you reach your career goals.
- List your expertise(s) and any special skills you can use to fill your contacts' needs. Also list the skills your contacts can use to fulfill your needs.
- Generate a list of ALL methods of networking and current exposure you are using (including, but not limited to, social networking sites, job boards, meet ups, and mailing lists). Ensure that all information is up to date everywhere you have a presence.
Use these lists to grow your personal network and match your skills with your contacts’ needs and vice versa. However, Moore warns, you may have to go out of your way to build a robust network.
Being a particularly shy person, I am intimidated by her suggestions of cold calling and one-on-one meetings with potential contacts. To ease this anxiety, Moore suggests leveraging others within your network: find somebody to introduce you instead of cold calling, or have a lunch meeting with a mutual contact instead of one on one.
Once you have met your contact, make it clear that you are interested in helping them or simply learning more about their company. Do NOT ask for something (such as a job) right up front. Instead, prepare a list of questions to ask that expresses your interest or offer to help them out in some way.
Maintaining Your Network
Again emphasizing mutually beneficial relationships, Moore provides several tips for maintaining your network.
- Spend several hours per week communicating with contacts via digital and traditional means.
- Get your name associated with helpfulness and expertise in your field.
- Answer others' questions (from contacts, on forums, etc.).
- Help fill others' needs (provide tips, resources, etc.).
- Make sure all parties know you were responsible so they can properly reciprocate down the road.
- Meet in person as often as possible.
- Regularly utilize networking resources online (via social networking and e-mail) and offline (calling or meeting in person).
These steps may be very difficult if you are shy or introverted (or both!), but don’t let that get in the way of building a strong network of contacts willing to help you solve problems. Furthermore, overcoming this issue will make your success feel all the more rewarding in the end.
Harvesting Your Network
Once you have your name out there and stuck in people's minds as being attached to somebody who is knowledgeable, skilled, and helpful (or, as the Chinese would say, once you've built good guanxi), it's time to reap the rewards of your hard work. Moore says that once you've invested your time helping solve others' problems, you can request help from your network, whether your problem is needing a job, filling a position, or finding a resource. The more you put into your network, she says, the more you can extract down the road. Moore also reminds us that saying thank you can go a long way toward maintaining a these mutually beneficial relationships.
Finally, the Chinese believe that good guanxi conveys reliability and trustworthiness. Likewise, if you've built and properly maintained your network, your contacts will know you to be a reliable person who can be trusted to return favors.Moore’s advice will help you reach that level in your professional relationships, which you will benefit from for as long as you choose to maintain them.