Networking Ethics (or Why Sales Often Won't Work in a Networking Environment)

I suspect that, like many of of us, I do some of my best thinking when I'm in the shower. This is an idea that has been rattling around in my brain for quite some time, so please indulge me as this gets a bit deeper into networking than I (or anyone else I've studied yet, for that matter) typically goes.

Almost everyone is familiar with some phrasing of The Golden Rule. It is most commonly written as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and the idea is ancient. 

However, unless you have studied religion or philosophy, you may not know about the various formulations (alternative phrasings) of this rule, and it occurs to me they can help us better understand how to relate to others in our networking activities.

Three versions of the rule:
1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (the common version)
2. Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you (the negative version, aka the prohibitive version)
3. Do unto others as they would have you do unto them (the platinum rule)

They each suggest different answers to the question of how we ought to behave toward each other, and can guide us toward more productive networking conversations.

Do vs Do Not
Version 1 and 2 have a common feature: they both require us to ask questions of ourselves. The reflexive nature of the questions “how would I prefer to be treated?” and “how would I prefer NOT to be treated” leads us to better understanding of our own values, tastes, opinions, and attitudes. Personal clarity here helps us determine and better explain to others what we appreciate, what we will tolerate, and what we will not accept.

The issue here is that knowledge is personal and individual - and it may not necessarily apply to the person with whom we are communicating. Their experiences will be different from our own, and an approach that focuses on one’s own positions will at best be seen as self-serving, and worst can be highly offensive even if our intentions are pure.

Worse than that, our self-focus may cause us to treat others as a member of a group or class, stereotype them in our interactions, and treat them as means to an end. We can fail to see the others we attempt to network with as anything more than reflections of our own expectations about their behaviors. It’s a vicious cycle.

This failure is possibly why attempts at selling in a networking environment can be offensive: If I believe I have a solution you need, and I believe I’d want you to share a solution I needed if you had it, I would conclude (by version 1) that I should sell (convince) you to choose/buy/use my solution. I am applying my values and expecting them to be yours as well.

In this case, a  simple application of version 2 here would correct this: I don’t like to be sold, so I should not sell.

I'll explain some other dangers of this way of thinking, how to solve the problem, and why we each have a responsibility to tell each other what we will not tolerate from them in future emails.

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