Beyond Networking: Invest in Relationships for Mutual Pleasure and Progress

Beyond Networking: Invest in Relationships for Mutual Pleasure and Progress

Beyond Networking:

Invest in Relationships for Mutual Pleasure and Progress


by Ruth Schimel PhD, Career & Life Management Consultant, Author

© 2022 by Ruth Schimel. Do not distribute or use for commercial purposes without Ruth’s permission. 202.659.1772


Most significant progress benefits from collaborations. Furthermore, finding useful information and well-informed direction entirely on your own is usually not as effective and enjoyable. I learned this especially working on my dissertation as some crucial insights and leaps forward came during even short conversations.   The quietude of seemingly fallow periods also helped with creativity and renewal when I did not complain about or resent such times.

No matter how self-aware and capable you are, important understanding, leads, and data are likely to emerge while interacting with others, in person, by phone, and online. Remember, also, that each person is a possible multiplier with connections to 100-200 people. The better they respect and trust you and appreciate your motivation and vision, the more likely they will want to share some of those contacts.

Together, this is why investing in relationships, where both parties create mutual benefit, is essential and deeper than conventional networking.   Naturally, this process takes time and trust, honest communication and patience, wherever you are on the spectrum of introversion and extroversion.

If you tend to avoid seeking and attracting varieties of assistance and collaboration, now is the time to practice becoming more comfortable doing so. Whether experienced or not, the more you do it, the better the flow, pleasure, and productivity. Take small steps at first to determine whether a connection is worthwhile for investment, realizing that your commitment to developing new relationships is but one key to long-term growth and satisfaction.

The more practiced and at ease you become, the greater the chances for joys and fun, not to mention good results from the process of sustaining significant relationships that support both your immediate and broader goals. As Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said about her own process of learning and development, the only shame is in not asking.

To be kind to yourself and to nurture worthwhile relationships, best start with people you like and respect.   Choose among, adapt, and improve the following suggestions:

  • Express your interests, focus, and goals clearly and feasibly so the person understands how s/he may help you; ask for assistance with advance notice and sensitivity to others’ time, needs, and style.
  • Be open about your concerns and purposes, why you want assistance from the particular person, and how you hope to use it; organize this in brief, pithy ways.
  • Find out specifically as well as intuit what others want and need so you can express your appreciation in ways that assist them. Be alert to similar and different values.
  • Start and encourage conversations and shared activities over time with individuals who offer different perspectives and insights. Be willing to challenge you and ask questions in productive, thoughtful ways. But delve into what’s behind skeptical comments especially when they seem dismissive, asking open ended questions starting with “what” and “how.”
  • Request referrals from your sources, as appropriate, providing specific feedback afterwards as well as appreciation for what transpires. Share your own well-focused connections and information regularly.


As you invest time and care in cultivating colleagues, cheerleaders, and members of your formal and informal boards of directors, keep identifying opportunities for mutual benefit.

Connections to Modify or Avoid

Not everyone you know and meet will be a good investment of your time, attention, and interest. To distinguish potential, avoid situations with people who drown out your own voice with skepticism or just tell you what to do. Politely ignore the individual who “knows best,” lacks interest or ability for truly exploratory conversation, or has an explicit or implicit agenda for you, however well-meaning.

Also limit connections with people I consider one-way streeters, aka takers. You’ll know them because their tendency is to use you and your time, complain regularly, and ignore your needs, interests, and preferences. Be alert to and limit the influence of people who project their own issues, assumptions, and interests on you; that becomes even more apparent when they are the source of continuing requests for your assistance, no matter how you discourage that.

As you adapt and use these ideas for choosing promising partners for progress, you’ll free yourself for healthier relationships ─ including allies, true friends, mentors, and sponsors (not mutually exclusive).   Your relationships will then be more likely generate happiness, pleasures, and stimulation.

But maybe your habitual connections or seeming friends make it difficult to escape distracting or self-absorbed people. Not having them might lead to an uncomfortable void in life. If this sounds familiar, perhaps test the relationship be telling them your concerns about their approach with specific examples, as appropriate.   When they don’t acknowledge them or refuse to hear what you prefer, that surely tells you where things stand and the value of the connection. You might then want to give them up to 10-minute quotas of attention in the  future, whether on the phone, online, or face-to-face and let additional commitments unfurl.

Brief paraphrases of their point of view will let them know you’ve listened to them, but see how you feel about sustaining the connection. If the person persists, you can always “plead” need to leave or change the topic.   Examples: “I think I’ve gotten your message. Let’s move to another topic now (and name it).”  Or as I did with a user who kept talking, I’m afraid I can’t help you with that and will have to leave/say goodbye/change the subject now.”

Ways to Improve Habits and Strategies

              Sometimes making changes in habitual patterns and relationships is uncomfortable and even very hard.   To move into productive action, name a few manageable, specific steps you’ll take for worthwhile shifts in behavior and test runs. Initially, perhaps write down the main few changes you want to make and your concerns or anxieties about them.

Each strengthening experience will be an investment in your capacity to deal effectively with the future of your work, life rhythms, and activities, however you define them, as well as quality of life.   Certainly, use professional assistance as needed.

To help yourself move beyond a trap of unbalanced, exploitive, or sometimes abusive relationships, explore and possibly apply ideas from Andy Molinsky’s book on new strategies to step outside your comfort zone: Reach: A New Strategy to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenges, and Build Confidence.

You may also find ways forward by making some practical accommodations between your vision for a better future and the seemingly predictable present. One example is this quick, smart guide for effective decision making using designer Raymond Loewy’s four-letter acronym, MAYA. Try his choice criterion for decision making: “most advanced yet acceptable.”

As a useful antidote to getting stuck in automatic pilot, remember that your situation will likely not remain constant or entirely safe whatever you do. Considering this reality, use the opportunity to take as much initiative and responsibility for moving ahead now as possible.  Then you’ll be in charge of avoiding negative consequences or limitations to the better life available to you.

© 2022, Ruth Schimel PhD, Career & Life Management Consultant, Author   202.659.1772

Please do not copy, reproduce, or use this guide for commercial purposes. For any other use, obtain Ruth’s permission in advance.

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