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Commercial Real Estate

Networking Strategies: Lessons From a Pack Animal

Effective networking requires us to acknowledge how we’re wired, based on a cornerstone of our species; together, we survive, writes business development guru Randy Thompson of Ryan Cos.

This past summer, I attended a Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR) conference in Chicago where Mike Lipsey was one of the featured speakers. As he summed up his presentation, he said the key to success in business comes from one’s “willingness to give away your best stuff.”

I’ve thought a lot about that counsel, and since this is the first time in quite a while I’ve written for D CEO, I felt it appropriate to give away my best stuff right up front and hope it’s not all downhill from here! 

Over the past 40 years, I’ve learned what works—and what doesn’t—relative to business development, aka “sales.” But I never really understood why some approaches worked well, and why some … did not. During the pandemic, I spent time reading and researching us humans.  And what I learned fascinated me.

Randy Thompson

One fact struck a loud chord: humans are pack animals. What is true in wolf-packs is true in “human-packs.” When one pack member wins, the entire pack wins. We can use this pack mentality to achieve success in business, in networking, and beyond.

Here’s why:

  1. We’re social animals. We learned early that our survival odds improved if we worked together.  Conversely, isolated humans exhibit all manners of mental stresses, phobias, and anxieties. Watch a season of History Channel’s “Alone” and you’ll see it happening in real time.
  2. Our brains are lazy. Our brains account for 2 percent of our body mass, but they consume 20 percent of our glucose. Therefore, our DNA works to reduce the brain’s energy consumption so energy can be diverted to other important biological boxes we need to check, like breathing and keeping our hearts beating.
  3. We prefer the familiar. New environments require more work by our brains because there are new things to see, smell, and understand. That process consumes glucose. So, we default to the familiar. Do you always put your keys in the same place when you get home?  Got a favorite spot to park at work? This is why. You don’t have to work to remember the location of your cars or keys. It’s automatic.
  4. We love patterns. Patterns indicate something is like something we already know.
  5. We trade speed for accuracy. Quick! How many of each animal species did Moses load onto the Ark? If you thought the answer was two, you’re wrong. Noah did that. 
  6. Visual trumps auditory: Of the 100 billion neurons in our brains, 30 percent are dedicated to vision; just 2 percent are dedicated to hearing. For us, a picture truly is worth a thousand words.
  7. We get goosebumps. We don’t think to ourselves: “I’m afraid, therefore I want the hair on my arms, or neck to stand on end.” It just happens. We can’t consciously start or stop it.
  8. We scream. When we scream in fear, the noise sharpens our focus and warns others without words. Could we use any of the millions of words we know? Sure. But we don’t; we scream. 
  9. We cannot help but look. When startled, we look for the source of what startled us because back in the day, sudden loud sounds could harbinger terrible consequences. So now, when we’re in a restaurant and someone drops a plate, we all look.
  10. We cry. We’re the only animal on earth who cries from emotional stimuli. And emotional tears contain more stress hormones and natural pain killers than cleansing tears.
  11. Fight or flight. When faced with an imminent, deadly confrontation, we automatically choose one of two options: we run (flight), or fight.
  12. We’re the weakest of all natural predators. Our species runs slower than most predators, we’re weaker and smaller, and our infants are helpless for far longer than other species. But our brains, use of language and symbols, and our ability to adapt and learn, makes up for a lot.
  13. We ‘swarmed.’ Like flocks of birds and schools of fish, we’ve always had the ability to work in groups. Even before the use of spoken words, we used eyesight and gestures to work as a single entity, fooling larger prey into thinking we were not just a group of hairy animals carrying pointed sticks, but a single massive (and intimidating) animal.
  14. We’re self-aware. We know we’re humans. A skunk doesn’t know it’s a skunk. 
  15. We use reason. We live in a place of higher thinking and reason most of the time; but our primitive brain will take over in times of great stress—and it doesn’t ask our permission.

So, what does all this have to do with networking? Watch. When we encounter a stranger, our DNA demands to know which pack(s) they’re in. If we aren’t careful, our base DNA will answer that question for us: Strangers are a threat.

Our heart rates accelerate, as does our respiration. Our blood pressure rises, muscles tense, adrenal glands kick in—and pupils dilate. Why? Our bodies, without our conscious help, are preparing to run or fight, because our eyes alone cannot see the content of one’s character. Learning one’s character takes work, work our brains are reluctant to do because strangers are—by definition—new. 

In the old days, my colleagues and I did a lot of cold-calling. But think about how flawed this is relative to things I shared that are universally human. A ringing phone startles us and sets us on edge. And I cannot see you, so a stranger has just managed to elbow their way into my personal space.

To overcome our natural resistance to the new, networkers must quickly appeal to the familiar, to things with which strangers can identify or relate: mutual interests.

Fortunately, today, there are less intrusive ways to reach out and connect. By creatively using these alternative tools, I can quickly reassure someone I want to meet I am not a stranger at all; instead, I am simply a friend who you’ve not yet met.

It has always been true: it’s not what you know, but who you know. Effective networking requires us to acknowledge how we’re wired, based on a cornerstone of our species; together, we survive. I then use this knowledge to advance my cause.

 Primitive? Yes. Subconscious? Most of the time. But these things are essential to what we are. I embrace the simplicity of it, combine it with our very natural, very raw power to want to help packmates achieve their goals, because when a packmate wins, I win too. 

The power of the wolf is in the pack; the power of the pack is in the wolf.  

Randy Thompson is vice president of national build-to-suits for Ryan Cos.


Randy Thompson

Randy Thompson

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Randy Thompson brings decades of hands-on leadership experience to the position of Vice President of National Build-to-Suit, a role in which…

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