As I continue building my personal productivity practice, one of the biggest shifts in my thinking is around networking . I've moved from the common "palm down" perspective  to the "palm up" variety, in which I work to learn what people care about, and think about afterwards how I can be of service, i.e., how I can help them. I'm reminded of this idea, from my self help formulary:
Life = The people you meet + What you create together
What's hit me recently is that I needed to make changes in the way I interact with people in order to better help them. The question is, how do we create an environment that fosters this kind of giving?
Here's a straightforward process that's helped me:
1. When meeting someone, come with an attitude of genuine curiosity.
Think of yourself as a detective. Your job is to listen and ask good questions about what she cares about, loves, is challenged by, and is excited about. Learning to do this may take some work (it did for me) because many of us want to talk about ourselves, show how smart we are, and feel like we're contributing to the conversation. Another risk is, giving unsolicited advice .
It helps to have rapport-establishing skills, and I've found Nicholas Boothman's How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less very helpful - see my review here. You might also enjoy Questions that Work.
This leads to a test:
After meeting someone, do you now know enough to spot ways to help him?
(Note: I recommend against the "Is there any way I can help you?" finish to a conversation. It sounds contrived to me, and might really be sending the message "Look how willing I am to help you." Often the answer is "hmmm." Much better to use my approach. Arguments to the contrary are welcome.)
Remember, when meeting with someone the only things you should be asking about are ones dedicated to providing value. Avoid the instinct to focus on the short-term and your benefit; it's about relationship-building and long term connections.
2. Maintain a steady, reliable, and valuable atom/bitstream
Now that you know what's potentially valuable to people in your network, you have to find corresponding artifacts. You'll want to select sources that provide this potential. These will be in the form of articles (HBR has some great ones), books (reading-related posts here), blogs (learn how to read them quickly here), and your experiences working, learning, and living.
Because these sources are often digital, you'll need an effective way of managing them. I like Mark Hurst's  concise little book Bit Literacy. Mark has a lot to say about the topic - highly recommended. For example, one idea is to create a media diet portfolio with two main components: The Lineup and Tryouts. The lineup contains the sources you are most likely to stick with. He breaks them down further into three types: stars (consistently valuable), scans (give some relevant information via a quick read), and targets (special-purpose sources). Tryouts are sources you're thinking of adding to your diet. Mark says to be discerning, intentional, and remember you have to limit the total.
This step's corresponding test:
Is my media diet consistently valuable to me and my network?
Ask this regularly, and prune/adjust as needed.
3. When you come across something of potential value, share it
This is self explanatory, but will depend on your having a free enough mind  to put together mentally the two parts.
That said, here are a few tips:
- Instead of emailing, print and send information with a note. It's personal, fun, and after all - who gets excited about receiving an email? "Oh boy - I got an email from Matt! What a unique and memorable way to communicate." :-)
- Point out why you thought she'd be interested.
- Provide contact information. After all, starting a conversation around the topics is golden.
- Send thick packages - it's more memorable. Plus, what fun to surprise and delight people. My favorites items Super Spy Night Pens and NASA stickers (it helps to have cool clients).
- Consider giving books. I am surprised and humbled when I receive a book from my network, and I now don't think twice about shipping one when I see the opportunity. (Side note: Joining Amazon Prime has helped with this.) You might want to check out Tim Sanders' post Prescribe a book to a bizmate.
Unsurprisingly (at least to you, maybe) I've found doing this whole process to very satisfying. I've never been good at giving, and these ideas have helped me a lot. (This also explains why I've had trouble buying gifts in the past - the most meaningful ones are based on knowing the giftee.) Interestingly, I now find myself feeling rather disappointed when I can't help someone.
Oops - there's the doorbell, so I need to go. It's our piano tuner. For the past two weeks my wife's been grousing about how out of tune her instrument is, and how frustrating a few sticky keys. Can't wait to see her face next time she plays!
-  You can find my networking-related posts here.
-  See Networking Tips from the White House, which is an interview with Christine Comaford-Lynch, author of Rules for Renegades: How to Make More Money, Rock Your Career, and Revel in Your Individuality. (NB: I haven't read it yet.)
-  I've heard (but found no sources) that people giving advice feel better afterwards, but those receiving it feel worse. Any citations?
-  Interview forthcoming.
-  If this is hard, considering hiring someone to help ;-)