It's not what you know, nor who you know

There’s a quote asserting that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” - and this is true to some extent. Sometimes a connection or introduction can make things easier - although it can also refer to nepotism, where patently incompetent people land plum opportunities merely on the strength of their connections.

And when “competent” people then find themselves being overlooked while those with connections move past, it’s tough - and one way to respond to this is to define “networking” as a competence.

But this kind of influence comes with a cost - the more you need to pull strings to get ahead, the more indebted you become, and the more obligation on you to “return the favour” one day.

This way of “knowing people”, or “networking” as it is called in LinkedIn-speak, is dehumanising - it’s an informal contract with an unspoken rule about maintaining parity in balance of payments favours, for example sexual favours to “sleep your way to the top”.

But another way is possible. It’s to be human (human being = being human) and “build” quality relationships. Except, if you explicitly focus on “building quality relationships”, it doesn’t work - it reduces to networking.

So how do you build relationships without trying to build relationships? I’m not sure… Recently, on my 19-day adventure across Poland, Estonia and Finland centered around my participation at the 12th International Conference of the European Forum on Restorative Justice, I felt incredibly supported by my relationships - people who answered a plea to crowdsource my travel expenses, people who opened up their homes to host me, people who took time to meet me and engage in conversation… some were people I had not seen in 2 decades, and some were people I had not even met in-person before.

Thinking back on my past, I’m not all that happy about how I have showed up - more “networker” than “friend”, I suspect? It’s only recently that I’ve started to consciously unmask and be myself.

PLACEHOLDER to remind me to link to unmasking stories

But if I were to provide “suggestions” from my place of non-expertise:

  1. Help people without thinking about “what’s in it for me?”. This can involve offering help because you know that the other may not feel comfortable asking, but also being mindful that imposing unsolicited help (and especially charity porn) can be patronising, disempowering and dehumanising.
  2. Being open to receiving help in whatever ways others (not necessarily the people who you are helping, because although one-way relationships can be awkward, striving for reciprocity doesn’t work either) are able to support you - but perhaps also gently refusing if it is an attempt to restore parity in favours?

“Helping” here doesn’t have to be material - and I suspect that if it was only material it may not be a stable relationship; it can be offering advise, and it can also be as simple as being present and holding space.