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Dumas: Networking means nurturing relationships

Derek Dickow has been a highly sought-after executive coach for more than 12 years. Elected officials, corporate executives and leaders of nonprofits have all sought — and seemingly benefited from — his business acumen. When the pandemic hit, he saw the need and opportunity to fine tune and formalize his service to ensure his business continued, even if not as usual.

“People were scrambling to figure out what to do, how to do it and how to continue to serve markets that had severely changed,” Dickow told me in an interview.

His approach applies to business as well as our daily lives and livelihoods.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of someone we don’t know or haven’t heard from in a while asking for something, personally or professionally. Many are seeking to withdraw from a relationship to which they haven’t contributed.

“In life, people teach us both how to do things, and how not to do things,” Dickow says.

According to him, networking is the process of creating, nurturing and deepening relationships. A lot of people think networking is simply putting on a name tag and passing out cards, but there is much more to it.

His definition of networking: “helping to support and build a community whereby we give without any expectation of receiving or keeping score.” He cites "quid pro quo" as the anthesis to networking.

Networks have enormous value, he added. One way to measure the worth of a businessperson is to view their network: “Successful people when faced with a challenge or a problem are able to dig into their network, make a phone call and come up with an answer or solution.”

"Your first-level contact may not have the answer, but they may know someone who does," Dickow says. "The greater your network, the greater number of problems or challenges you can solve.”

Whether in business or our community at large, our connectivity and ability to both contribute and benefit from connections is crucial to our collective success and sustainability.

“I teach and encourage connecting the dots, not just collecting them,” he says.

But sincerity matters. If you’re on the take, your network will reflect your lack of genuineness. Dickow stresses that you must be sincere, present, listening and responsive. “Too many times, people are at an event, talking to you but looking over your shoulder to see who they can talk to next,” he says.

Dickow suggests ditching the typical introductory questions, which only yield empty or canned responses and say little about the person. Instead, he suggests asking “What brought you here today? What’s new and exciting in your world?" and "How can I help you?”

Because networking is about giving.

“We’re all pulling from the same depository," Dickow says. "We must also contribute.”

The basis of good business networking also has value to our community and society.

“Networking elevates ourselves, our families and our communities, as it is the platform for solving problems,” Dickow says.

To do so, we must connect, give as much as we expect and stay in touch.

But, Dickow says, it's not enough to simply stay in touch: “Everyone wants to be top of mind, however, you want it to be for a positive reason. Spam emails do not convey to your contacts that you care about them. Communication needs to be done with purpose.”

A successful networker is someone who finds ways to brighten a day or educate. They give without any expectation of something in return.

Thereafter, gratitude should always be part of the equation. Some form of expression of thanks — a note, a text, card or gift is what Dickow says “separates good from great.” It is also one of the pillars of purpose-driven networking.

Despite the disconnect fueled by the pandemic, humans are social animals. Dickow is confident that people want to talk, be heard and make connections.

“The tools and strategies we use now may be different, but the intent and desire are still the same," he says. "If you are sincere and authentic in your messaging, others will respond."

Successful networkers don't have a stack of business cards on their desk. Instead, they have a series of ongoing conversations with colleagues and friends. More importantly, truly successful networkers are just as interested in others' successes as they are in in their own.

That's a blueprint for our individual and collective success.

Karen Dumas is a columnist for The Detroit News and the co-host of "The No BS News Hour." Her column appears on Tuesdays.