Cycle of Reciprocity

As a sideline, I facilitate many workshops on networking for which my book, Coffee Lunch Coffee: A Practical Field Guide for Master Networking, serves as the foundation. After sharing the premise of Coffee Lunch Coffee and a little about my own experience with networking, we engage in the first four major exercises from the book, collectively referred to as “Make Four Lists.”

The Four Lists are comprised of the following:
1. People I already know
2. People I would like to get to know
3. Companies/organizations I would like to get to know
4. Non-negotiables/values

In each workshop, we methodically go through the Four Lists and, invariably, somewhere between completion of List #2 and List #3, something miraculous happens…. Others in the audience clamor to help one another connect to those prospective contacts and companies.

To illustrate consider these few examples:

  • Recently, Sprint and the American Marketing Association in Kansas City hosted me to give a presentation to about 125 participants from companies across the metropolitan area. Upon completion of List #2, I asked, “What types of people did you write down? I don’t need first and last names, just a description of who you are trying to reach.” A fellow called out, “I’m interested in moving to Central Texas, but have very few contacts there. My specialty is PR and, before I move, I’d like to connect with people in that area who are in communications.” Within moments, others around the room started calling out introductions to others in Central Texas that they would gladly make for the individual. Pack your bags!
  • In January 2013, I facilitated a workshop for about 200 participants at a women’s conference hosted by the St. Louis Business Journal. Following individual completion of List #3, I asked, “Would someone be willing to share the names of some of the companies she is looking to connect with?” With some hesitation, a participant raised her hand and said, “I am interested in getting involved as a volunteer with XYZ hospital, but I don’t know where to start.” Immediately, a woman in the back of the room stood up and said, “I’m on the board of the hospital and would be glad to connect you with the right person.” Voila! Connection made.
  • Last month, the Monsanto Women’s Network had me in for a presentation to 125 of its members. Again, between Lists #2 and #3, I posed the same question. One woman raised her hand and declared she was interested in connecting with a wine expert. From around the room, other participants shared the names of sommeliers, wineries, vintners, local wine importers, etc. I raise my glass and toast to that!

This behavior happens time and again. In his book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant refers to the “Reciprocity Ring,” an exercise, originally developed by University of Michigan sociologist, Wayne Baker, and his wife, Cheryl at Humax. Essentially, each participant is told to make a request to the rest of the group which is then instructed to use their knowledge, resources and connections to help fulfill the request. Requests relate to personal and professional lives and include everything from job leads to travel tips. In every case, the Reciprocity Ring proved an extremely powerful experience. Just as with my Four Lists exercises, the Reciprocity Ring exercises – with university and graduate students, with professionals and corporate executives – the number of requests actually fulfilled is remarkable! When given the opportunity to help, to contribute, to expand the pie, people step up and make it happen.

As I’ve covered before, the best networkers are those who are generous with their time, information and resources. By engaging in a cycle – in a ring – of reciprocity, the “gifts” one receives in return for his or her generosity are many times greater than what he or she contributed. It is an abundance mentality and serves to expand our collective “wealth.”

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