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"friending" your way to the top

By Peter Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 24, 2009

One of the best ways to advance your sphere of influence in the business world is to invest in relationships. Word of mouth drives a significant portion of growth for many companies in many industries.

A popular vehicle for doing this, particularly for the small business crowd, is BNI -- the "largest business networking organization in the world." But there are oodles of others that exist at all levels of business: chambers of commerce, trade shows, conferences, executive roundtables, etc. You create a connection, find common ground, and start developing a relationship.

The basic principle of relationship-based business networking is to get to know and respect other individuals within your network, and to refer as much business as possible with the hope that you will receive referrals in return. "Givers gain" -- the constant BNI mantra.

Once you have spent a certain amount of time "networking" (or "friending", as some call it) you come to recognize falsity when you see it. An inevitable aspect of these types of environments is that they attract hustlers who just acquire and dispose of relationships as pure commodities. So much so, at times, that ethical people who have had disappointing networking experiences might wonder if being a Catholic and "friending your way to the top" have any compatibility.

Responsible Catholics shouldn't develop relationships under the guise of friendship when the purpose is in fact utilitarian. You don't befriend someone solely for getting to their money, or their contacts. You don't stay in the relationship just long enough to get everything that you want. No, Catholics don't play it like that. Catholics live to a higher standard than the "ethical requirements of their profession".

So, here are the rules of engagement (from my point of view) for "friending your way to the top" as a Catholic.

(1)  Be above board. Make sure that the people you are engaging with know that your interest is primarily motivated by business. Don't act like you want to be everybody's bosom buddy if you have no intention of being anything remotely close.

(2) Don't make commitments that you have no ability to keep. Business networking can often create an aura of eagerness, where everybody tries to please everybody else. It can be catching, heady, cathartic. Don't say you will buy anything that you won't. Don't feign interest in getting together with someone socially outside of the group when you have no intention of doing so. Don't say you are interested in donating to something that you know, in your heart, is out of the question. Don't take five business cards knowing you are going to throw them away as soon as you get out the door.

(3) Don't abuse friendships outside of the group by giving junk referrals that you know will never pan out. In other words, don't tell a carpenter, cosmetic salesperson, or insurance broker "I have a friend who might need some of that" when you don't really know if your friend needs it or not. (Hey, everybody needs insurance, right? All women wear makeup, right?) Your friends should not get cold calls (or worse, impromptu home visits) from people who they have never met and probably will never do business with.

(4) Don't assume that you know someone just because you have spent 10 one-hour sessions with that person (and numerous other people). Almost everyone puts on some sort of a facade for business networking.  Maybe you can cultivate an eye for genuine people, but there are many (MANY) inveterate liars out there who can keep it up for a very long time. Do your own research outside of the group before you refer any person in your group to anybody.

(5) In Catholic business networking circles, don't assume that people are competent because they are Catholic, and don't expect that anyone should have the same expectation for you. Not all Catholics are invariably honest, and not all honest people are competent in their chosen profession. You should never do business with another Catholic in ignorance of other important factors -- you aren't doing anyone a favor in the long run.

(6) Never downplay or hide the Faith--you will find yourself in compromising situations. Get it out in the open as soon as possible. If you fill out a profile when you enter a business networking group and have the opportunity to list Affiliations, find some way to write the name of your church in there. The world doesn't necessarily recognize love when it sees it, so don't expect people to know that you are a Christian by your love. Tell them. Knowing you are a committed Catholic first and a businessperson second will (in my experience) help you to avoid more uncomfortable situations than it will create.

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