Read our COVID-19 research and news.

The Seven Laws of Networking: Those Who Give, Get


Ever been to a reception following a talk or a meeting and felt it was a dreadful display of people begging to each other while pretending to be best friends? To be fair, most of the people present were probably friends. But, during these gatherings people too often forget about the seventh law of networking: the paradox of profit. In other words, the fact is you have to give first in order to receive. And when I say you should give, I mean freely, without the hidden intention to get anything in return. This will get you further in the end. Read on to see how you can implement the paradox of profit in your own life.

Those who have given also receive.

The paradox of profit is far from being a new concept--just open a Bible and you?ll find it: "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance" (Matthew 25:29). This is still true, maybe even more so today in our network-based society than 2000 years ago. Give to your social networks, and you will be given valuable pieces of information and ideas, but also personal tips, moral support, and any other kind of help. Giving without demanding or even expecting anything in return is in actual fact the only way to benefit from a network.

Why is that?

Consider the three driving forces behind the paradox of profit:

1. Reciprocity

2. The network effect

3. Reputation

1. Reciprocity: Trading support

Of all the forces, this is the simplest one: If you give to someone, however little this may be, you are bound to get something back. Look at Figure 1: A gives support to B, and therefore B will return the favour to A in his or her own ways. Barry Wellman and Kenneth Frank1 looked at 845 adults in Toronto, Canada, and the way they were trading support within their own networks.

Figure 1. Mutual support interaction

Their conclusions regarding reciprocity were that women tend to give back with moral support, friends at work with day-to-day professional support, and close friends with both everyday and emergency support. Everyday support is more like giving an idea, a helping hand, a listening ear, a tip. Emergency support is, for instance, bringing someone home when his or her car is broken or lending a person a considerable amount of money to get a business started. This is no big surprise, but stick around and let me tell you about the network effect.

2. The network effect

Part 1: When knowing each other also means helping each other

Could social networks have an intrinsic quality that calls for support without demanding reciprocity? In other words, when it comes to getting help, does it make any difference if you are in a clique or simply trading support as you would in a reciprocity scenario? Wellman and Kenneth came to the following conclusion: "The data show that an alter who has many ties with other members of an ego?s network is considerably more likely to provide everyday support to this ego and marginally more likely to provide emergency support."

The word "alter" stands for somebody other than the examined person, whereas the word "ego" means the examined person in question. We will skip to our usual A, B, C and so forth.

Figure 2. Giving support in a network

OK, let me explain what this all means in plain English. Let?s say that A in Figure 2 is the alter. She knows B, C, and D, and she also knows the ego, E. Wellman and Frank found that C will naturally give more support to E than would for instance F, who only knows E in this network.

Wellman and Franck concluded that those who have personal connections in common feel a stronger bond and are thus more likely to be supportive of each other.

Now this is nice, and it gets even nicer in the second part!

Part 2: When giving is getting

While it does help to know people to get support, would investing time and effort in your network turn it into an even more supportive one? In other words, if you give support only to certain people within your network, are you likely to receive support from other individuals from that very network? The most interesting conclusion of Wellman and Frank?s research, in my opinion, provides the answer to this question: "Egos who have provided emergency support to many alters are more likely to receive emergency support from a given alter."

Figure 3. Emergency support in a network

In this case, the alter who gives support to the ego is not necessarily one of the alters to whom the ego gave support in the first place! Let?s apply this to our example: If A gave emergency support to C, D, and E, she may just as well get emergency support from B. The help is not necessarily directly reciprocal! Frank and Wellman concluded about this in so many words: "When the network owes support to an individual, the individual doesn?t need to depend on ties with specific other individuals who owe reciprocity." In brief, those who give, get!

3. Your reputation travels ahead of you

Vincent Buskens2 explored the way trust relationships are managed. He found that "actors (individuals) receive information about the behaviour of their partner from third parties and use that information to decide how they are going to behave themselves." A friend of a friend is more likely to be your friend. So imagine what the reputation of being a supportive person does for you in your relationships with others, be they new acquaintances or lifelong friends.

Receptions don?t work. Or do they?

Let?s go back to our reception. Why do people often not get as much out of them as they could have, wished they had, or had hoped for? First you need to recall the five modes of human interaction:

1. Steal

2. Beg

3. Deal

4. Like

5. Love

Most people at receptions, symposia, or meetings adopt the second mode of behaviour: "Give me a scholarship. Give me funding. Give me time, ideas, information, give, give, give." But still, they pretend to be in mode 4: "Let?s all like each other, let?s be friends." This approach does not work, because it is inconsistent.

Now, if you go to the market to do some shopping, everybody there is in mode 3 of dealing and behaves in such a way. Both the shoppers and stand owners get what they want out of their interaction, because their approach to each other is consistent. Similarly, even though you may not like it, a beggar is in mode 2 and doesn?t hide it: "Give me a dollar."

Now, you may wonder how you may recognise consistency when interacting with others. Let me reassure you that in networking, you just know. Only a small part of all communication is verbal, the rest being related to facial expression, appearance, muscular tonus, and stature. Human beings have a physical ability to feel the emotional state of another person. Howard Friedman?s 2-minute ordeal3 provides proof of this.

The 2-minute ordeal

Imagine spending 2 minutes in a room with a stranger, without either of you saying a single word. Once you?ve left the room, what are the chances that the other person?s mood will have an effect on yours, even if you never see this person again?

Well? Howard shows that it could be up to 100%, depending on the person you are and the person you?ve been with! Some people are highly sensitive to someone else?s mood, and others are very effective in transferring their mood to others. The obvious conclusion is that body language does exist and people are definitely able to sense it. You may not be aware of it, but it does affect you!

This holds true in any situation: People who are communicating verbally are also attuned to each other physically.

William Condon4 spent a year and a half analysing a 4.5-second shot of people talking with each other. He showed that people not only talk, they move in synchrony: A head movement is met with a shrug of the shoulder, which invites a smile, which in turn provokes a slight movement of the hand, and so on. Of course, none of the people were aware of this.

Well, this is how you recognise somebody who is begging while pretending to be a friend, at a reception, a symposium, or anywhere else. You feel it in your spine, which is where the shivers come from.

Let?s put it into practice

OK, those who give get. So what do you have to do now? Go out and give it all away to the first person you see? Stop going to receptions altogether? None of the above. You only have to keep in mind a networking law I have mentioned previously: The fit get rich. In this case, being "rich" means getting some support, and being "fit" means having some good friends who also have special friends of their own. If this sounds like it could be your network, you and your friends are a valuable source of information to each other. Your friendship also guarantees you good mutual support through reciprocity.

Now that you?ve seen how being fit also means being able to give, and that you should interact with other people at least through the third mode of dealing, but preferably through the mode of liking or loving, let?s revisit the first law of networking: the law of the small world. Consider the whole world as a large clique of friends: Extend your offer of support to everybody, and expand your reputation as far as you can.

Yes, I?m calling upon you to be a good person. Be nice; help your friends, family, and others; and you will be helped. That way, not only will you go further in life, you?ll also be more fun to hang out with at receptions.


1. B. Wellman and K. Frank, Network capital in a multi-level world: Getting support from personal communities. In Social Capital: Theory and Research, N. Lin, K. Cook, R. Burt, Eds. (Aldine DeGruyter, Chicago, 2001), pp. 233-273. Available online.

2. V. Buskens, Social networks and the effect of reputation on cooperation (1998). Originally prepared for the proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Social Dilemmas. Available online.

3. H. Friedman et al., Understanding and assessing nonverbal expressiveness: The affective communication test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39, 333 (1980).

4. W. S. Condon, Cultural microrhythms. In Interaction Rhythms: Periodicity in Communicative Behavior, M. Davis, Ed. (Human Science Press, New York 1982), pp. 53-76.