“Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”
~Charles R. Swindoll

I dropped off my daughters at school this morning.

Kaylie, our fifth grader, gives me a quick hug and a kiss. “Bye, Dad! Love you!” I squeeze her tight. “Have a great day, Sweetheart. I love you.” It doesn’t escape my attention that we are well out of sight from any of her friends. In addition to being a huge fan of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, she is also our budding actress. She is already rehearsing for the role that should net her the Academy Award for Child Mortally Embarrassed by the Presence of her Father. She turns and picks up her pace to put some distance between us — or maybe like Hermione, she simply wants to be first to class.

Abby, on the other hand, our precocious and preternaturally wise six-year-old, grabs my hand and walks with me to the first-grade line. “Hi, Alex! Hi, Savannah! Daddy, how many more minutes to the bell? Ten minutes?? That’s too long!” She maintains a running commentary for the entire time. When the bell finally rings, we walk to her classroom together.

“Don’t leave, Daddy!” She runs over to her coat hook to drop off her backpack. She rushes back to me with only a short delay to greet one of her friends. “Grizzly bear kisses!” She giggles as my unshaven chin tickles her cheek. “High five!” Our arms move in unison as we perform our multi-move high-five, fist bump, side-to-side, top and bottom, finger shoot handshake. Then it’s time for the finale. “Running hug!”

For the uninitiated, imagine kneeling on one end of the room with your arms out, Now imagine an active six-year-old backing up to the other side of the room. She then runs top speed, arms and legs flailing in all directions until the final three feet or so where she launches into the air with a hug that has the impact of a small moving van. Not so great for Daddy’s back, but it does wonders for Daddy’s heart.

As I’m giving her a final squeeze, I see that many of her friends are watching us. I hope I haven’t embarrassed her. “Sweetie, I love you, but if you ever you don’t want me to walk you to class, you just need to let me know, OK? You won’t hurt my feelings.” Yes, I lie to my children.

She just hugs me harder. “Daddy, I want you to walk me to class forever!”

Like I said, good for Daddy’s heart.

As I walk away from her classroom, I can’t help but feel a little sad. I miss those same moments with Kaylie. I decide to take a chance to check in on her. I find myself standing outside her classroom, peeking around the corner, straining to see what she’s doing. There she is getting settled in for a full day of learning. I watch her for a few minutes and realize what a poised and fearless young woman she is becoming.

Good for Daddy’s heart.

As I turn to leave I realize that our morning goodbye ritual is giving her what she needs. Even if it’s out of sight, she still needs her hug and kiss and “I love you”. That’s what gives her the security to explore and create the world in which she will thrive. If I tried to treat her in the same way as her younger sister, or vice-versa, none of us would be happy. Ultimately, it’s not what I want to give that counts, but rather what they need to receive.

How often do we forget this when it comes to our networking practice?

Does Bob, the personal trainer, need the same things as Sally, the tech company CEO? And are either of them the same as Sam the financial planner? Here are a few questions you should be asking to make sure you are treating each in the way they want..

  • What do they need? Not everyone wants more customers. Some need more employees, or vendors, or new office space. Maybe they’re looking for a new job or perhaps they aren’t focusing on their career at all. Maybe they’re looking for just the right opportunity to give back.
  • Who needs to be connected to them? If they do want customers, what do they look like? How would I know? If they want employees or vendors, what qualities are going to make for a good fit?
  • How do they prefer to receive contacts? Technology continues to expand the tools we have at our disposal to reach out to others. Do they prefer email? Texting? Phone calls? LinkedIn message? Tweet?
  • When do they want to hear from you again? Do they like a friendly message once a week, once a month, once a year? If you do call, when is a good time?
  • Where do they like to go? If you are going to meet them for coffee or lunch, which coffee shop or restaurant do they prefer? If they happen to be out of the office that day could you try out something new together? Or maybe they don’t like to leave the office at all. Perhaps they would prefer sharing a “virtual coffee” phone call.

How do you get this information? Ask. Pay attention. The more you can treat each person as a distinct individual with his or her own specific needs, the more likely they will be to pay attention to your needs. They may not want a hug, a kiss, and an “I love you”, but, ultimately, the best networking happens when their need overlaps with the resources and the opportunities you can place at their disposal.

And it’s good for the networker’s heart.