WorkLife with Adam Grant
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Adam Grant: The idea of networking has always made me a little uncomfortable. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

Kat Cole: It all started with pretty aggressive business card swapping. "That's what I need to do; I need to walk up and introduce myself, and, 'Here's my business card,' and get theirs."

AG: That makes me nervous. And it makes my students nervous, too, because we all know the results can be ... awkward.

Allie Miller: I was at this tech conference, met a VP. He reached out his left hand to shake my left hand, and he turns it over to, like, look if there was a ring. Almost threw up on his shoes.

Constantinos Coutifaris: So I spotted this managing director. I sort of crossed the room and entered his peripheral vision. And he immediately turned to me and asked me if I could get him another glass of merlot.

AG: And even if you get the meeting you want, it doesn't always go as planned.

Reb Rebele: I was halfway through a conversation with somebody I was really excited to meet, and I thought things were going great, but he said he was only at about a three out of 10 in terms of how engaged he was in the conversation.

Shalina: I met with a venture capitalist, and during our meal, I put a chocolate dessert ball in my mouth, only to later find out that it was actually part of his extremely expensive ancient marble art collection.

AG: Networking can be forced, cringe-worthy or worse. But it doesn't have to be that way.

(Theme music)

I'm Adam Grant, and this is WorkLife, my podcast with TED. I'm an organizational psychologist. I study how to make work not suck. In this show, I'm inviting myself inside the minds of some truly unusual people, because they've mastered something I wish everyone knew about work. Today: making professional connections and how to build a great network even if you hate networking. Thanks to Hilton for sponsoring this episode.

It's not what you know, it's who you know. Like most clichés, it's popular because it highlights an important truth. But it's partially false. Look, there's no doubt that who you know matters. We have decades of evidence that the right connection can get your foot in the door for jobs, promotions and board seats. But the mere thought of networking can stop us in our tracks. This was true in one experiment where some people were asked to think about making friends at a cocktail party, while others imagined trying to make professional connections. Afterward, the ones who'd envisioned networking felt dirty, to the point that they actually rated soap and toothpaste more positively. And research shows that no one really mixes at mixers, anyway. We might plan to meet new people, but we usually end up hanging out with our old friends. So how should you think about developing your network? You don't have to start by building your contact list. You can start by building your skills, because having expertise to share sets you up to connect with interesting people. Just ask Pejman.

Pejman Nozad: My name is Pejman Nozad. I landed three miles from here, San Carlos, with 700 dollars in my pocket.

AG: When he came to the US from Iran in the 1990s, he barely knew anyone.

PN: I didn't know what to do. I think the only thing I knew, I was in love with a girl in Iran, and I thought, "I'm going to lose her, so I should call her every day." So this is 1992, I had to have this bag of quarters every day, going to a pay phone. And it was like three, four dollars per minute. So I had spent the whole 700 dollars in, like, two, three weeks.

AG: He started working in a California car wash and then in a yogurt shop, where he lived in the attic to save money.

PN: You couldn't walk, stand up, because it was short, no air, no window.

AG: One night, while watching a Persian TV channel, he saw an ad for a high-end rug gallery. Within a couple days, he visited the shop and talked his way into a job.

PN: I worked 17 years, 10 hours a day, six days a week.

AG: Today, Pejman knows a lot about rugs. But he spends most of his time in a different career. He's now a successful venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. The companies he's invested in are worth over 30 billion dollars. How did Pejman go from selling rugs to investing in start-ups? It has to do with the power of building your expertise. Pejman was selling rugs in Silicon Valley in the early 90s, right as the internet boom was happening, which gave him a chance to meet some pretty important people.

PN: My customers are, you know, founder, CEO of a tech company, venture capitalists, lawyers, bankers, and I built a close relationship with them.

AG: He built these relationships talking about rugs all day long, sharing his insights in a showroom, much like the one he owns today, in a historic garden in Silicon Valley.

PN: Hello!

AG: Oh, wow. There are rugs on the rugs.

PN: This is kind of a directional carpet, as you can see it up there. The way you recognize this carpet is because of that purple band on the right side. It's among the signature pieces here.

AG: He'd show off his knowledge and teach customers something about what they were buying. And often, he ended up having these conversations in their homes.

PN: Persian carpets are expensive; you don't sell them normally at the gallery. And when you go to their home, you spend a couple of hours with them. I was hanging out with them, with their family at the dinner table, and so on.

AG: Pejman loved to share his insights about the deep history and craftsmanship of rugs. Sure, it helped him sell more rugs, but it also helped him connect with people. Research shows that mastering your craft helps you build connections. Take a study within hospitals. Radiologists who were experts at their jobs ended up making more new friends at work over the next nine months. And they occupied more influential positions in their hospital networks. This is true in any line of work. Think about it. You love having mavens in your network: knowing who to call when you're deciding which car to buy, being able to email someone who's lived in nine countries when you're planning your next trip, having an eagle-eyed proofreader available to check your work for errors. For Pejman, his knowledge about rugs led him to meet a particularly pivotal person in his career after an ordinary call from a customer who needed a rug cleaned.

Lou Montulli: In fact, it was kind of an interesting story, because I was an angry rug customer.

(Laughter)

AG: The customer's name is Lou Montulli.

LM: I was a founding engineer at Netscape. I am most famously known for having helped create part of the World Wide Web.

AG: You were, like, a defining part of my childhood.

LM: Thank you.

AG: Lou wasn't happy with a rug he'd bought. And that's when Pejman jumped in.

LM: And so I called Pejman just to have some maintenance done.

PN: I washed it, but he ended up buying a really nice Persian silk rug.

AG: So you traded him up?

PN: Yes. I think a few hundred dollars' wash turned out to be tens of thousands of dollars spent on a new carpet.

LM: Let's not talk about it.

(Laughter)

Somehow, he did some kung fu, which completely shifted my mindset. I would stop by the gallery and just have tea, because it's a beautiful space. I would always learn something about the rugs, but we'd also just chat about other things going on. And that's how we started talking about entrepreneurship and companies and technologies going on in the Valley.

AG: Sure, Pejman is affable. But he stood out because he excelled at his job. He impressed Lou with his expertise. Remember — Lou was calling to get a rug cleaned, and Pejman managed to make him so curious about rugs that Lou ended up becoming a collector. Over the years, their relationship blossomed, to the point that when Pejman started his own venture capital fund, Pear VC, Lou offered to help out. He became an adviser and an investor. And the support didn't just flow in one direction. When you build a network by making deep connections based on the sharing of knowledge, the benefits are often reciprocal. Recently, when Lou was ready to start a new company of his own, things came full circle for him and Pejman.

PN: I'm an investor in his company. So, a call for cleaning carpets, ending up to be an investor in his company, 20 years after.

(Laughter)

LM: If everything was logical, the world would be kind of boring.

AG: What would you have said 20 years ago, if I had told you that that story was going to be your life?

PN: Don't call that place to wash your carpet.

(Laughter)

AG: Oh, and the 700 dollars Pejman spent on calls to Iran paid off, too — he ended up marrying his girlfriend. They just celebrated their 25th anniversary. So who you know tomorrow will depend in part on what you know today. Becoming an expert can help you meet people and give them a reason to want you in their networks. But that's not the only way to move beyond swapping business cards.

Reid Hoffman: I hate what people normally think of networking.

AG: That's Reid Hoffman.

RH: I'm the cofounder of LinkedIn, and I'm a host of the "Masters of Scale" podcast.

AG: Reid spent a huge part of his career helping people build better networks. And he's a believer in doing things Pejman's way: connecting with people over something deeper than self-interest. In fact, he's identified four different mindsets that people have when making connections. The first two are transactional.

RH: The bottom level is, it's an immediate trade. The second is like, "I'll do this for you, and then you're going to do something for me in the future," which is that kind of narrow transaction.

AG: A more meaningful approach is to focus on building a real connection.

RH: The level up from that is, "Look, I like building up alliances, friendships, relationships," and, "Let's both invest in a relationship."

AG: At the highest level, the goal is to help people because that's a value of yours, or because you believe in them and their values.

RH: The best is where, actually, in fact, we share a mission in the world, and in that shared set of values, we also have a friendship.

AG: So, you know that to earn that kind of respect, it helps to build up your knowledge. But the way to do that is more flexible than you might think. You don't have to go to a fancy school or even spend 17 years in the same rug shop. You can learn faster than that, on the job. Kat Cole: I started working pretty young, because my family was in a little bit of a tough situation.

AG: Kat Cole was a trailblazer.

KC: I was the first person in my family to get into college. And the plan was to graduate and have a fancy-shmancy career. But things turned out a little differently.

AG: She grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, with two sisters. Her mom was a secretary. Most of her relatives were factory workers and truckers. Several were in and out of jail. Kat's father was an alcoholic, and before she turned 10, she had been in three car accidents with him. So when her mom told her she was considering leaving him but couldn't afford to do it, Kat, who was nine at the time, told her to do it anyway. He mom took the advice and managed to raise three kids on a food budget of just 10 dollars a week. As the oldest, Kat did whatever she could to support her family.

KC: I was working in malls selling clothes and helping to take care of my sisters from school, and then became a hostess and a waitress, as many people do. What was different is, I was a hostess and waitress at Hooters restaurants.

AG: Kat started to get promoted at Hooters. And as she did, she started going to industry events to learn from others in the restaurant business. And there, she figured out how to make deeper connections faster than asking what people did or who they worked for.

KC: So I would go to these things, but instead of speed-dating — How many cards can I collect? How many cards can I dish out? — I would have more focused conversations with one or two. And the conversations wouldn't be about "What do you do?" They would be centered around "What's your biggest challenge?" and then sharing a story that I felt would be helpful. So it was almost that I found a way to try to be a mini-helper in the moment.

AG: I love this concept of being a mini-helper.

KC: (Laughs) I did not realize that that was effective networking.

AG: Kat's strategy was simple: be a giver, not a taker. Asking about a problem that needed solving led to more meaningful connections. And pretty soon, Kat was known in the industry as a big helper. It led to one promotion after another. By 32, she was the president of a billion-dollar brand: Cinnabon. Today, she's the president and COO of Focus Brands. You have delicious-smelling franchises, including —

KC: Cinnabon, Auntie Anne's, Jamba Juice, Carvel Ice Cream, Moe's ...

AG: The point here is to turn the whole idea of traditional networking on its head. If you want to build a network of people who recognize your value, don't focus on what you can get. Figure out what you can give.

KC: It is a bit of "give first" in order to, you know, network, and encourage others to do the same.

AG: In my research, I found that givers have stronger relationships and reputations than takers, who burn bridges with their selfishness. Givers also fare better than matchers — people who trade favors quid pro quo, and come across as pretty transactional because they're always keeping score. A number of studies show that people who give more than they get earn more status and social capital. But you can't try to game this strategy by giving only for show. If you help me just to get something, it feels like you were just using me. You have to actually care. And Kat did. For her, the "give first" approach started back when she was 19, working as a Hooters waitress. She pitched in to help a lot.

KC: If someone wanted to go home, I picked up their shift. Or if a manager called and said, "Look, I'm having trouble in my restaurant, can you come and help?" I worked.

AG: So Kat turned helping into an opportunity to build her skills and demonstrate her contributions.

KC: The cooks had quit one day, and so I learned how to cook in the restaurant. The bartender had to go home, and I learned how to bartend. And that kept happening with all of these support and leadership roles in the business, where, over the course of maybe 90 days, I had built this résumé of knowing how to run a restaurant. It was not my intention; I was just trying to be helpful. And all of that led to me being considered a top employee.

AG: Which led to her first big break.

KC: I was asked to be a part of the training team to go open the first ever of our franchises in Sydney, Australia.

AG: Kat had been at the company just two years. Helping turned out to be an incredibly efficient way to build her expertise, especially because she was in an organization where good work got noticed. Hooters wasn't exactly known as the go-to place for making connections. But they were growing exponentially, opening up new restaurants all over the place.

KC: There weren't Wharton MBAs beating down the doors to go work at Hooters. And so they had to look within to find their talent. I was receiving a disproportionate number of development and growth opportunities in that company, because of the lack of influx of talent coming in from the outside.

AG: The best network isn't always built where the people are the most influential. It's in the places where you can be the most influential, where you can stand out with your contributions. So instead of choosing the most prestigious organization, you might end up with a better network at the organization that does the most promotions from within or that's growing the fastest, where you can progress the quickest. So you're learning everything you can about your line of work, ready to help wherever you can. But be aware that sometimes no good deed goes unpunished. There are certain ways that becoming a big helper can backfire, especially for women. New research by economists shows that women get 44 percent more requests than men to volunteer for thankless tasks. You know, the office housework: taking notes in meetings, planning events. Women also feel more pressure to say yes, and they get penalized more if they say no, because it violates gender stereotypes of women as caring and communal, which is grossly unfair. I asked Kat what she thought about this.

KC: Mm-hmm. First of all, I think the research is accurate. The difference is what I did with those tasks. So I would clean the bathrooms, but I would have conversations with managers while I was working those extra hours. I would do the extra administrative work with a project that no one wanted at the corporate office, but then I would make sure I was in the room to help present it: "I took the notes, and this is what I observed. And here's a question I think we should be asking." The menial task, if you will, was always the first step in something. It was never the thing.

Neha Shah: If you're just doing the grunt work, then I think it become thankless. And if you're not learning anything from it, I think that's where the boundary condition is: Where is that learning stopping?

AG: That's Neha Shah, a researcher at Microsoft who specializes in social networks at work.

NS: Informal networks, so it's different than the organizational chart.

AG: She's found evidence that supports Kat's experience. Recently, Neha led a study at a consulting firm. She knew going in that when someone in your network helps you solve problems, it improves your performance. But what about the people who are doing the helping?

NS: What we found is that when people helped others solve their work-related problems, the better their performance tended to be. And that was because they were learning from helping other people solve their problems.

AG: Like how volunteering to train new employees helped Kat learn different parts of the job and problem-solve across the restaurant.

NS: So if you're getting better and better at solving problems, then it's going to benefit your own performance.

AG: Helping others with task-related problems gives you practice at problem-solving. And it sometimes gives you new insights, too. But Neha also found a wrinkle. Those benefits don't apply to a different kind of help: giving emotional support.

NS: And the reason is that when people are venting, things like, "Man, my boss sucks!" it's tiring, it's distracting. And that actually narrows the way that we think about problems. And it doesn't help me in any way. It doesn't allow me to learn.

AG: I've made a big deal out of how helping others can strengthen your network. But of course, there are times when you're the one who needs help, when you have to bite the bullet and ask. What are the best ways to ask? And can seeking help actually broaden or deepen your network? More on that after the break.

(Music)

OK, this is going to be a different kind of ad. I've played a personal role in selecting the sponsors for this podcast, because they all have interesting cultures of their own. Today, we're going inside the workplace at Hilton.

(Music)

When Tim Sachse was a kid growing up in Germany, his favorite thing to do was to take summer camping trips.

Tim Sachse: Me, my little brother and my dad, we just packed a car with a huge tent and barbecue and hit the road.

AG: They'd get in the car and drive two hours north from their home in Berlin to the Baltic sea and set up camp on the beach.

TS: Doing nothing but swimming, relaxing, bicycling, barbecuing. We looked forward to it all year; it was always a special time for us. We didn't need luxury. All we needed was time together.

AG: But eventually, life got in the way. Tim grew up and they stopped going. Then, 10 years ago, tragedy struck: Tim's father had a severe stroke.

TS: He was 49 when he had his stroke, and since then, he never fully recovered. He needs a wheelchair, he cannot walk at all, he cannot talk. So from one to another day, he was handicapped, like, super bad. And I kind of felt like giving something back to him after he raised us with so much love.

AG: And Tim had an opportunity to do that because of where he works. Tim is a Hilton concierge in Berlin. And Hilton has this amazing program called "Thrive Sabbatical." They give team members money and a month paid time off to live a dream or give a dream, no strings attached.

TS: I say, "Sweet! How cool is that?" I mean, I knew Hilton was doing a lot of course for the guests, and also for the employees. And it really feels like a big, big family.

AG: Sabbaticals are pretty common for university professors. I'm three years overdue to take one, but clearly I should get my act together, because there's an experiment showing that going on sabbatical from work improves your well-being — especially if you leave your home country. It's pretty rare for companies to offer sabbaticals, though, and many of the ones that do provide time off to learn new skills. Hilton's program is different. You can use the time and funding for any dream. Anyone who's worked at Hilton for at least five years is eligible to apply.

TS: I know exactly what I want to do. I want to give a dream and I want to live a dream. So I want to take my dad on a trip to Sweden and Norway. That's the trip we always wanted to do but we never did.

AG: A few months later, Tim went to one of his regular staff meetings. But when he walked in the door ...

TS: I saw my general manager holding this huge check, all the helium balloons and a huge cake with the flags, the Swedish and the Norwegian flag, on the cake, and my name. And then I figured out, "Oh, my God, it really happened!"

AG: Tim was picked as one of this year's 10 "Thrive Sabbatical" winners. The program has allowed team members at Hilton to pursue all kinds of passions, from a housekeeper in Rome who fulfilled a lifelong dream of learning to sail, to a security guard in Florida, who traveled to the Philippines to help children in poverty. Tim and his dad will leave on their trip in just a few weeks. The plan is to rent an RV, put on some Bruce Springsteen — his dad's favorite — and hit the road.

TS: I hope that we will find a nice lake where we can fish and we actually can get some fish, which we can enjoy later. But I just hope it will create one big memory for him. We don't need much, we just need us.

AG: How cool would it be if every company had a sabbatical program like that? For 2019, Hilton has been named Fortune's number one best company to work for in the US. Learn more at jobs.hilton.com.

(Music)

When I was in middle school, I was so shy that when I answered the phone, my voice would shake. Yet, one day, I found myself marching across the street and knocking on a complete stranger's front door. My teacher had asked our class to help find guest speakers in the media industry. My new neighbor, Sherry, was a TV broadcaster. I'd never asked an unknown person for anything. But here I was, inviting Sherry to talk to my class. What made me comfortable was that I wasn't asking for myself. I knew that it could be helpful to others, and I wanted to be helpful. If you're like me, you hate reaching out to your network for yourself. You don't want to be a burden to others. You're afraid of rejection. How do we overcome these barriers to ask for help? Seeking help doesn't have to be transactional. There are ways to genuinely ask and expand your network at the same time, ways that leave everyone feeling energized and valued. Years ago, I learned about an exercise that makes it easier: the Reciprocity Ring, created by sociologist Wayne Baker and entrepreneur and executive Cheryl Baker. Full disclosure: the Bakers recently asked me to join them as a cofounder of the online version of the exercise, "Givitas." And I'm such a fan of it, that I said yes. For the live version, you gather a group of people and ask everyone to make a request for something they want or need but can't get on their own. Then you challenge them to use their knowledge and networks to fulfill one another's requests.

(Audio clip) That's it! Everyone asks, everyone gives, sounds really simple.

AG: I first tried it in my classroom a dozen years ago, and I was floored by how quickly my students got comfortable seeking help. When everyone is asking, it doesn't feel as awkward. And because you're not making the ask directly to anyone, you don't worry as much about getting rejected.

(Audio clip) You may be surprised by the request you see from people you think you know.

AG: I've done it many times since, with thousands of employees and leaders at hundreds of companies. There's always a broad range of asks. In one version, we have people write their requests on flip charts and stick them right on the wall.

Laura Kim: This one is cool because it has a lot of different comments on it.

AG: Here's Laura Kim, one of our MBA students at Wharton. She's walking around a room at a recent Reciprocity Ring, reading some of the requests off the flip charts.

LK: "I need help finding new/experimental ways to manage chronic pain." This one is, "Learn how to play the guitar," and Peter wrote, "I can teach you 'Wagon Wheel.'"

(Laughter)

"Shadow a commercial pilot for a day, so I can get over my fear of flying." Oh, wait — I know someone in the Air Force. I don't know how much they can help, but might as well.

AG: I told the students not to prejudge the group's ability to help. And one request, from Yasmin Serrato-Munoz, was especially bold.

Yasmin Serrato-Munoz: I decided that I wanted to interview Michelle Obama.

AG: Unfortunately, no one signed up to help with that one.

YSM: Then I had to be a little bit more realistic, so I said I want to interview Michelle Obama or a strong woman of color.

AG: I've seen Reciprocity Ring work for people in all stages of their careers. You can even organize one yourself, inviting people you think might enjoy connecting with one another. And once they've participated in a community where generosity is the norm, they often come away with bonds that last and grow beyond the exercise itself, which is what happened for Yasmin.

YSM: It made me more open to ask for things. For example, one of the people who had written their name down to offer to help me with my goal, I've actually asked them to help me with a different goal. That really has opened up other doors, in the sense that I got to know my classmates a little deeper.

AG: When Yasmin started out in her career, networking didn't come easily to her.

YSM: I was a first-generation college student, my parents didn't go to college. I heard this word, and I was like, "Oh, man, that's another thing I have to learn."

AG: During the Reciprocity Ring, several people offered to help Yasmin with her request. But a few months later, she still hadn't followed up with any of us to make it happen. I wondered why.

YSM: I got a little scared, I was like, "Everybody's really busy. How do I craft this email in a way that makes sense?"

AG: I told Yasmin that when she reaches out to a strong woman of color, it might help to pair her ask with an offer. Instead of just asking for an interview, she could propose to work on a special project for that woman. That way, instead of imposing on a busy leader, she'd be volunteering her skills.

YSM: I think that's what networking should be, at its core — asking yourself, "How can I help this other person?" instead of, "How can they help me?"

AG: But let's be realistic. Most professional requests are way less exciting than meeting your hero or even learning to play the guitar. And many of them feel less genuine. I'll never forget the guy who came up after I gave a keynote at a conference and said to me, "We should meet. You will learn a lot." So how do you avoid that ickiness when you're not in the warm embrace of a Reciprocity Ring? I found in my research that you don't have to emphasize the benefits to the person you're asking. Instead, you can emphasize why it's meaningful to you, or how it will make a difference for others. Kat Cole knows this personally. Right around when Kat became vice president at Hooters, she also became the board chair of the Georgia Restaurant Association. It was an unpaid volunteer role.

KC: I moved into the chair of the board role when I was 26 years old. And there were some pretty difficult things going on. I reached out to a few of the leaders who were respected in the industry, and Phil was one of those people.

AG: Phil Hickey, the longtime CEO of a company that owned restaurants like LongHorn Steakhouse.

KC: Phil Hickey is a legend in my mind and an angel. And he said, "Why don't you meet me at the airport?"

AG: His private airport hangar. So she drove out there in her old maroon Jeep Grand Cherokee. She liked to paint in her spare time, which helps explain the state of her car.

KC: I mean, it was a serious beater, covered in oil paint dripping out of the trunk, because I was a painter on the side. And so I parked far away. And we met in this little café in this private airport. And he said, "Look, I want to share with you some perspective that I've learned." And I walked out feeling empowered, supported, and other than a handshake at a previous so-called "networking event," I had not had a meaningful interaction with him.

AG: So why would Phil make time for Kat? In part, because he already knew of Kat's reputation for volunteering in the industry. Plus, Kat framed her request in an effective way: it would benefit her, and it might also affect people working and eating in restaurants throughout the state.

KC: I reached out to him and asked him for his advice.

AG: It's fascinating to me that you didn't ask for his help. You asked for his advice. Is that a distinction that matters to you?

KC: Hearing you ask it, it's a massive distinction. When I think about those who now reach out to me, when they say, "Can I have your help?" Of course I want to help. But that can be a big, daunting, broad potential commitment, whereas if I am asking for advice, it's very specific. So I do think there's a pretty big distinction there.

AG: The evidence backs her up. Seeking advice is one of the best ways to recruit an advocate. It makes people feel important. And it makes you look smart. "Wow, you're a genius! You knew to come to me!" With one important caveat: if you're not genuinely interested in the advice, it doesn't work. The ask needs to be authentic. But what if you want to contact someone you don't already know? It used to be hard to find their info. Now, thanks to social media, it's easier to seek advice and help from new contacts. And it feels less risky to reach out. The question is whether it's effective. To find out, social psychologists had people ask strangers to help them and randomly assigned them to ask either by email or face-to-face. The results? Emailing 200 strangers got the same number of yeses as asking just six strangers face-to-face. That probably sounds familiar to you. How many emails have you sent that went straight into the abyss? I wanted to know how you capture the attention of a stranger online, so I asked Reid Hoffman.

RH: People send me invitations to connect, even though they don't know me.

AG: He's more likely to respond if the request comes through someone he knows and trusts.

RH: I actually started LinkedIn to make it easier to find the person who could introduce you. Your network is much bigger than you think, in terms of trusted connections.

AG: You know, oftentimes people are just not lucky enough to have that common contact, and they do get stuck writing the cold email or sending the LinkedIn request out of the blue. Do you have rules for how to do that more and less effectively?

RH: Yes. Broadly, it's: really have a sense of why it is you're specifically reaching out to the person you're reaching out to. Make it as visible as possible that you're not just asking for something from them, but that you're hoping to offer them something, to help them to view it as a collaboration, versus just a request.

AG: I kind of bristle at that when people reach out that way and I'm like, "Wait, you don't even know me and you want to work on a project together?" That's like proposing marriage on a first date.

RH: You have to be really appreciative to what they're looking for. "Here's the thing I'm doing that I think could be really interesting to you, and this is why it might be worth some of your time."

AG: There's evidence that instead of reaching out to total strangers or weak ties, you're sometimes better off getting back in touch with your dormant ties, the people you used to know. They have novel insights to share, because they've been meeting new people and learning new things. But what's the best way to reconnect?

RH: So I think the best practices in getting back in touch are to remind the person about what you found special about your interactions then, and where that leads you now to be reconnecting. And I think that's useful, because the person may go, "Oh, I really value that. Yes, I'd like to reconnect."

AG: I used to send my thank-you notes immediately, ideally an hour after the meeting. And I've noticed lately that when I receive thank-you notes, it means more when they come in a few months delayed or sometimes even years later.

RH: I would say that the best thank-you notes that I get are when that later impact is reported. But it's part of that, "Hey, we had this meeting, and it helped me do the following things, and here, let me share with you what it did."

AG: We sometimes forget to see the whole person behind our professional interactions. We're all more than our job titles, and we'd like to make a genuine impact when we can, not just dole out cheap introductions. That's why the best networking happens when people connect for a purpose other than networking — to learn from one another, help one another or accomplish something together. In life, it certainly helps to know the right people. But how hard they go to bat for you, how far they stick their necks out for you, depends on the strength of your connection. You want them to say:

RH: "Hey, I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do. Because this is what I would like to see happen for you and for the world." That is the real bedrock of life.

(Theme music)

AG: WorkLife is hosted by me, Adam Grant. The show is produced by TED with Transmitter Media. Our team includes Colin Helms, Gretta Cohn, Dan O'Donnell, Grace Rubenstein, Angela Cheng and Janet Lee. This episode was produced by Jessica Glazer. Our show is mixed by Rick Kwan. Original music by Hahnsdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown. Ad stories produced by Pineapple Street Media. Special thanks to our sponsors: Hilton, Accenture, Bonobos and JPMorgan Chase. For their research, thanks to Ron Burt and Rob Cross on networking, Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki on feeling dirty while networking, Paul Ingram and Michael Morris on not mixing at mixers, Mark Bolino, Frank Flynn and Robb Willer on generosity and social capital, Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Linda Babcock and colleagues on office housework, Katie Liljenquist, Alison Wood Brooks, Francesca and Maurice Schweitzer on advice-seeking, and Frank and Vanessa Bohns on asking for help. And for sharing their worst networking experiences, Constantinos Coutifaris, Allie Miller, Reb Rebele and Ashley Wells.

Next time on WorkLife.

Woman: So I suppose from very young, I was kind of set up with this expectation that that was my calling. "Oh, you'd absolutely make a wonderful zookeeper!"

AG: Why following your passion might actually steer you in the wrong direction.

AG: When I ran the Reciprocity Ring with my students, Kat Cole sat in.

KC: Personally, I was shocked at the one that jumped out to me.

(Audio clip) It's the whale shark one that I can help with.

(Cheers) (Applause)

If you'd like to swim with the whale sharks, it is done and done!