The mutuality of networks

Relationships have to be two-way to be meaningful, otherwise they aren’t a relationship. We need to both give and receive for the connection to be real, for the connection to be purposeful. I’m wary of posting anything that might sound like a diatribe on social media, there other people better qualified in diatribes than I am, but there seems to me to be a disconnect developing between the online and offline approaches to people’s networks.

I’m very lucky to have a close group of neighbours and if one of us is away, another will step in to check the mail, feed an animal or just make sure that everything is ok.  But it is a shared commitment that we all have, unspoken, unrequested, bit critically important to the living breathing community that we have become.  If one neighbour were to constantly be asking for help, but never providing then unless they had some specific reason I’m certain that after a period of time it would become awkward.

Likewise, the business  people who I know in and out of my business also have this mutuality of commitment at the base of their relationships with me.  If I need something, I can call on my network and they will, if they can, come to my assistance.  And of course, I will come to their’s too if it is within my power.  The phrase “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is often seen in a dim light, but in reality this is at the basis of everything that we do.  It doesn’t have to be now, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow but I’d like to believe that people are there for me.

I had a conversation with Jon Ingham last week about a subject not a million miles away from this.  We don’t hold the same views on influence and connectivity, but we share a lot of overlapping thoughts, opinions and beliefs.  In an online world it is easy to confuse “connections” with connection.  We can have a gazillion followers, or a bazillion “friends” (ok so I made that word up) but the quality of this interface is something that is a lot harder to get at, to measure, to understand. I’m quite happy to connect on LinkedIn with people who I know, know of, or have met.  Likewise I am happy to recommend people who I genuinely WOULD recommend.  Less so those people who wish to do so because I work in HR and they feel that there might be some benefit for them.

But isn’t that a bit…..selfish? If I can help someone, then shouldn’t I try to do so?

Well yes, and no.  I’d like to think that over time, I’ve been helpful to people who I’ve met online. Can I write this? Can I speak at that? Would I have a look at this and tell them what I think? Of course.  The difference is that these people have interacted with me beforehand and I have a belief that if I were to need something in the future, they would reciprocate.  I haven’t “got” anything from them, other than the time of day and a bit of a chat about XY and Z, but the intention in approaching wasn’t about what they could get, that came later.

But giving can be more than acts, it can be content and thought, it can be support and advice.  I’m open to friend requests on Facebook or follower on Twitter (haven’t quite got my head around Google+ yet which seems a bit of a free for all) but at the same time as I hope I contribute to a conversation, I look to others to do so too.  If you follow 11 people and have a thousand followers, you are going to be in transmit mode constantly (I saw a senior Head of Resourcing with this sort of profile the other day and thought…no thank you).

I guess where I’m getting to, what I’m starting to think is that there needs to be some level of value. And value isn’t a number, but more a sense, a feeling an emotion. It isn’t about frequency, I have some great friends and contacts that I speak to only time to time, but I know that should I ever need anything, they would be there.  Networks, relationships, communities are all about mutuality, not just of purpose, but of contribution.

Offline and online should be no different in that respect.