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The unexpected secret to level up your networking

An organizational psychologist insists there’s one key to approach building a network that is transformational.

The unexpected secret to level up your networking
[Source images: yngsa/iStock; magurova/iStock]

Networking used to be something you did with business cards. You had an agenda. You were trying to accomplish that as quickly as possible.

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This line of thinking doesn’t work anymore. We live in a new age of collaboration and relationships. Transparency and genuineness are not only expected, but anything less is not tolerated. To create incredible relationships, connections, and collaborations, you must approach your relationships in a transformational, not a transactional, manner.

The Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan has a term for this: “the self-transforming mind.” He considers it the highest form of psychological and emotional evolution.

According to Kegan, the basest form of psychological development is what he calls “the socialized mind,” which is where a person operates out of fear, anxiety, and dependence. You don’t make your own decisions. You don’t have your own goals. Instead, you are simply trying to be accepted by your peers and will do anything you can to conform to them.

Above the socializing self is what Kegan calls “the self-authoring mind,” which is where you’ve gone from unhealthy dependence to much more healthy independence. You’ve developed your own sense of self. You have a worldview, goals, and an agenda. You have a perceptual filter but cannot see outside of that filter. Everything you do is to confirm your bias and achieve your narrow goals. This is where most people stop in their development, highly convinced of their own perspectives and uneasy about altering those views.

The self-authoring mind reflects the old-school way of building a network. It’s all about you, you, you. Your agenda is center stage in your mind. You are lazy in how you develop relationships. You’re focused on the quick win. You see people as a means to your end. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. At least among high-level and socially conscious people.

The self-transforming mind is different from the self-authoring mind. Rather than being individualistic and competitive, it is more relational and collaborative. When at this higher level, you engage in collaborative relationships for the sake of transformation. All parties have their own perspectives, beliefs, and agendas. Yet they come together for the purpose of having their own perspectives, and even their own identities and sense of self expanded. The whole becomes new and different from the sum of all parts. Through collaboration, striving, growth, and connection, people can and do change. They can evolve in ways far beyond what is possible through individualistic pursuits.

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In order to engage in transformational relationships, all involved parties must individually be psychologically evolved to the self-transforming level—which, from Kegan’s perspective, is less than 10% of individuals and organizations.

Transformational relationships, as opposed to transactional ones, are engaged in for the purpose of service, giving, connection, and growth. They generally don’t start with a specific agenda. Instead, they start with curiosity, interest, and genuine service without expectation. All parties are givers far more than takers. There is an abundance mindset, and an openness to novelty and change. Rather than viewing people or services in a transactional mindset as a cost, everything is viewed as an investment, with the possibility of 10X, 100X, or bigger returns and change. Commitment to each other and the vision is key.

Plant little seeds everywhere, with no expectation of return

In light of Kegan’s ideas, I recently had a conversation with Michael Fishman, a consumer psychology expert and the founder of Consumer Health Summit, a community of the world’s biggest influencers in the consumer health space. Fishman is connected to many of the world’s biggest influencers. He has some really unique perspectives on developing relationships.

I asked for his advice about how someone could begin developing relationships, connections, and world-class collaborations. I was a bit surprised by how he initially responded. He said:

“Honestly, for most people, it’s not practical to develop relationships in the type of way that leads to the greatest outcomes. If you’re working a full-time job and have some kids, then it’s hard to plant seeds that will bear fruit in six years.

But that’s how you’ve got to approach relationships.

You plant a lot of seeds with no expectation of return. You plant seeds through generosity and helping people for the sake of being helpful. If you’re planting these types of seeds every single day, life will be very abundant to you…

But you’ve got to play the long game. No trying to force quick wins. People will be able to tell your agenda is the only reason you’re helping.

The most memorable people are the most helpful.”

Fishman’s ideas are spot-on, but as he stated, they are impractical. They require extreme wisdom and patience. You’ve got to have enough vision and confidence in your long-term future to invest in relationships that may or may not bear fruit. And you’ve got to be fine with that. You have to find time regularly to help and support people.

You plant seeds every single day.

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How often do you plant seeds? When was the last time you were generous and supportive, just to be generous and supportive?

Developing excellent relationships and collaborations is impractical, but ultimately, highly profitable. You’ve just got to play the long game. You can’t play people to suit your own agenda. They will remember you for the wrong things.

If you want to be remembered positively by a growing number of people, then plant seeds. Keep planting more and more. Zig Ziglar famously stated, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want.”

Ziglar was right. So is Michael Fishman. These guys know how to create transformational relationships, and these are the relationships that create life-changing relationships and collaborations. But you can’t force it. You’ve got to be open. You’ve got to be sincere.

Are you going to plant some seeds?


Benjamin Hardy, PhD, is an organizational psychologist and best-selling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work.

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