When I teach networking, or even discuss it with clients, something that keeps coming up again and again and again and again is the idea that it's kind of sleazy. Lawyers in particular absolutely despise the idea that they're developing or maintaining a relationship with someone simply to make money.
Well. I have been reading a book lately that addresses this issue. It's about behavioral economics, and it's called Predictably Irrational. It's written by Dan Ariely, who maintains a fascinating blog.
Behavioral economics is kind of the bastard child of psychology and economics, and deals with all the ways in which human behavior -- which frequently makes no sense at all -- affects economics, transactions and business in general. A lot of economics is based on the idea that people are rational when they buy things -- they figure out the logical reasons for buying what they buy, and they follow those reasons.
People of course, are not remotely rational, and by acknowledging that and studying how it influences transactions, you can shed a lot of light on how economics actually works in the real world -- the one we all happen to live in. For example, people tend to be incredibly influenced if something is free -- way, way more than logic would suggest.
As part of his discussion, Ariely spends a chapter talking about social norms vs. market norms. This is the networking issue. Social norms are, well, social norms. The way people behave as friends, the patterns of relationships, the expectations we have of our roles, responsibilities and so on. Social norms are very, very strong. Market norms are nowhere near so nice -- they're the rules of the market, where things are bought and sold, and people calculate prices and benefits.
When these things collide, you have trouble. For example, when you leap up at Thanksgiving dinner, and offer your mother-in-law, who made the dinner, $400 in payment for the great dinner, she will be deeply offended. You're injecting market norms into a social situation, where social norms ordinarily would dictate behaviors.
Networking is exactly this situation. Friendships are the ultimate social norm -- and they're very powerful. Because of this, people get extremely twitchy when anything remotely resembling a market norm is injected into the situation -- or appears to.
The point of this post isn't to provide an answer. It's to recommend, strongly, that you check out this book. The chapter on social and market norms is a tremendously useful, lucid and revealing one, and will do a great deal to show you how to think about this stuff -- and what to do.