One of the strange side effects of networking in the business world is that many of the folks you talk with are going to assume that you are trying to sell to them.  Even the simple phrase “Let me know if I can help out with anything” takes on a meaning that you might not have intended.  On more than one occasion when I used those words or others like them, I’ve had my networking contact tell me that they don’t have any work for me.

So, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can short-circuit that particular pattern.  Here’s what I came up with.

First ask the question, “So, what challenges are you running into in your business right now?”  Depending on the ART level you have with this person, you could even extend the question to their personal lives.

(By the way, I don’t recommend you ask “What’s your problem?”  While it might seem semantically similar on the surface, apparently this is yet another question which can be misunderstood.  Who knew?)

Anyway, while you actively listen to the issues that are foremost on their minds, you should also be asking yourself “How can I help?”

You may not be able to help them in a professional capacity.  That’s OK.  In fact, this is where the real networking kicks in.  You may know of someone who can help them with whatever the problem is.  Offer to make the connection if they would like.  You’ll become the hero to both and then both of them will keep you in mind the next time something comes up which does match your professional interest.

Remember, above all, your goal is to help solve their problem, not sell.

So, have you had any of your networking questions misunderstood?