The following is an excerpt from Mika Brzezinski’s latest book Grow Your Value.
I cannot stress it enough: if we are going to grow our professional and inner worth, meeting people who either are or could one day be valuable associates, potential future colleagues or bosses, connectors, collaborators—and also personal friends—is simply essential. I see every moment out of my house (except when I’m on vacation) as a networking opportunity because I almost always get something out of every encounter. There should be nothing wrong about that.
But there is one thing I don’t do anymore. As I stated earlier, I do not do people-pleasing.
Networking is not about trying to get everyone to like you. It’s not about making close friends. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now: people-pleasing is poison. It is enemy number one for women who want to grow personally and professionally. It actually saps your value. If you are trying to be all things to all people, you will not leave a solid impression on anyone nor will you make any genuinely useful contacts. If you keep it up, eventually you will be seen as a sycophant, someone not to be trusted or taken seriously. People can usually sense an acting job, and that will make them uneasy and unsure about what your motives and intentions are. At best you won’t be seen as a serious person; at worst you’ll be looked on as vaguely devious and untrustworthy. In addition, people-pleasing will run you ragged. Networking, however, is seeing that there may be a useful connection between two people. It is either there or it is not.
Even more importantly, if you are playing to the crowd you may be giving them what you think they want, but you will not be getting what you want or need. To network effectively you must communicate who you are and what you have to offer. This is not to say it’s permissible to be rude; it is never permissible to be rude. But it is permissible—in fact, it’s advisable—to be powerful, open, fearless.
For example, at a women’s awards event I met a woman named Nadja Bellan-White, an executive at the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather. We got to chatting, and it turned out that she was in the running to head up Ogilvy Africa. “When the CEO of North America warned me I was about to get called into the offices soon, and my first reaction was, ‘Oh boy…what client situation has occurred now?’” she said.
I moaned in complete sympathy. So typical of us women, isn’t it? We’re such people-pleasers that if the higher-ups want to talk to us, we expect that we’re in trouble rather than assume that good news is coming our way. I gave her my one-minute lecture on the importance of knowing her value, told her about my experience negotiating my salary at Morning Joe, and encouraged her to pick up my book before she went into further discussions with the muckety-mucks so she could make sure to get her money’s worth while considering the offer. She read the book that night.
Next thing you know Nadja’s e-mailing and calling me to tell me about how she’d negotiated the Oglivy Africa CEO position. “I went from thinking ‘why me?’ to ‘why not me?’ I stopped apologizing. Still, I was afraid. Can I do this? Will I have the resources to get the job done?” she told me. “[Your] book was about succeeding, so I started thinking, ‘What would happen if I succeeded?’ I think that kind of bravery is frowned on in women. But there’s a difference between being brave and cocky, and I think that’s a line that men don’t seem to negotiate as finely as professional women.”