When it comes to business networking, it’s often suggested that we focus on giving to others before expecting anything in return. I personally define “networking” as the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give and take, win/win relationships”—with an emphasis on the word give.

In other words, to make a friend, first become a friend. And here’s a good example: when it comes to business networking, when you are approaching someone from whom you would like eventually to receive referrals, first give referrals.

Giving first is certainly a very important aspect of helping a person to feel comfortable with you and to want to do things for you. Whether in social relationships or sales, being the first to reach out is an extremely effective human relations strategy. It’s also just a generally nice way to be.

But as we can learn from one of America’s more well-known founders, Benjamin Franklin, taking the opposite approach can have excellent results as well.

In his book, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Other Writings (www.executive
books.com), the inventor, statesman, and diplomat relates an incident with a man who opposed Franklin’s being re-chosen as Clerk of the General Assembly of the Pennsylvania House. Although managing to keep the office, Ben knew that this person, whom he described as “a gentleman of fortune and education with talents that were likely to give him, in time, great influence in the House,” could eventually be trouble. He aimed to insure that didn’t happen by “making, of an enemy, a friend.”

Ben explains how:


I did not, however, aim at gaining his favour by paying any servile respect to him, but after some time took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him expressing my desire of perusing that book and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately—and I returned it in about a week with another note expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility. And he ever afterwards manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” And it shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove, than to resent, return, and continue inimical proceedings.

— Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Other Writings


Understand that both ways work—giving first, and getting first. It’s just a matter of judging which method will work best for you, depending upon both the situation and the other person involved.

Allow me to explain the principle at work in Ben’s story. Once understood, it makes a lot of sense, though at first, it might not seem to. After all, doesn’t it seem more likely that if you want someone to like you, it would make more sense for you to do something for him first, rather than ask him to do something for you? That, indeed, doing so might even obligate him to return the favor?

Perhaps. But have you ever noticed, when someone does something for you, that you feel almost a resentment, as though you now owed him something? You still might reciprocate—but if it’s out of a sense of “obligation,” then you might feel as though you’d evened up the score, and that’s that.

On the other hand, when you do something for someone else (as the other fellow did for Ben), you may feel as though you now have an emotional investment in that person and his success.

Think of parents and how much they do unrequitedly for their child. The more they do for them, the more they have invested emotionally in them, the more they love them. If you’ve ever mentored someone, you know what this dynamic is like: you end up doing far more for them than they could ever possibly do for you—and yet, you care more and more about their success.

Again, both ways work; giving first, and getting first. You need to be the judge of the most appropriate method in each individual case.

In any case, the most important lesson that Ben teaches here is found in that delightful last paragraph: It shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove, than to resent, return, and continue inimical proceedings.

You’re always better off making a friend than keeping an enemy!





Bob Burg

is author of Endless Referrals and Winning Without Intimidation, and a free weekly e-zine (www.burg.com) on networking.