The Power of Give And Take: Get What You Want By Giving First

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending DCBKK, a conference hosted by the Dynamite Circle mastermind group in Thailand.

I was having lunch in a beautiful outdoor restaurant with some of the people I’d met up with at the event. Under the trees, we were sharing stories of networking and business deals gone awry. Someone shared this experience with me:

Out of the blue, a consultant had emailed this guy offering to critique his landing page for free. They had a phone call to go over the results, and the consultant totally tore the landing page apart. It was incredibly negative, and the guy was taken aback. He felt terrible, being told by a stranger how much his page sucked in such a harsh way.

He found out later that this consultant had recently lost a big client and was scrambling for new work. He thought he was going to lure in new clients by giving away consulting services for free. The problem was, he was so desperate that he ripped apart a potential new client instead of really helping him.

With such a bad taste in his mouth, there’s no way this guy was going to hire the consultant for anything, ever.

There’s constructive criticism, and there’s crossing the line. This consultant crossed the line.

I picked up on two morals from that story:

  1. Don’t network under pressure, because it will backfire.
  2. You have to give, give, give before you can take.

I want to talk a little more about that second point.

We all know that networking is a game of give and take. You have to give of yourself before you can ask something of someone else.

This consultant knew about give and take, but he played it the wrong way. Giving a free negative landing page critique isn’t much different than giving a free punch in the face. You’re not really giving at all. You’re taking.

A speaker at DCBKK offered this guideline:
“You have to give ten times before you ask for something once.”

That might be a little extreme, but it shows you just how important it is to give.

As a freelancer or consultant, the list of things you want is endless. You want someone to hire you. You want your trusted clients to recommend you to their friends. You want an expert in your field to invite you to be on his podcast.

Sometimes, we want those things so badly that we jump right to the end of the networking process. We get desperate. We want to seal the deal before there’s even a relationship in place.

That’s the worst way to get what you want.

Instead, focus on relationships. Turn a handshake and a “Hi, how are you?” into a connection. Transform a conversation at a networking event into sustained communication. Follow up again and again, until you’ve established a baseline of trust.

Then, you can start asking for things.

We all have this mental tally of give and take in our heads. What did I do for you, and what did you do for me? If you let your tally get lopsided with too much taking/asking, you’ll find that it’s harder to grow those relationships. People will drop you if you drain them too much.

Even when you know this, it’s hard to put into practice. I actually failed to follow my own advice at the conference.

I listened to a fantastic speaker talk about following up. I bumped into him later, and right away I asked if I could interview him about his followup sequence. He was really nice about it, and told me to check back in with him, but I could tell he was kind of annoyed. I had jumped right into the ask instead of building the relationship first. I blew the opportunity, and I was mad at myself for the rest of the day.

Instead of cornering the speaker like an excited puppy, this is what I should have done:

First, start out with a compliment. Tell him how much I enjoyed his talk. (That’s a “give!”)

Then, keep the conversation going with a relaxed, laid-back vibe. People who are confident and calm are much more fun to network with. They seem like they know what they’re doing, and they inspire trust. I should have made him feel like he was making a worthwhile connection by talking to me (another “give”).

Next, spot an opportunity to tell him something valuable. Point him toward a helpful SaaS, a cool podcast or a thought-provoking article I think he’ll like. Another “give.”

Finally, offer my business card at the end of our chat and ask for his in return. At this point, I have three “gives” on my side, so it’s okay for an “ask.” And requesting a business card, even though it seems small, is definitely an ask.

If I’d approached the situation with less pressure on myself, it would have gone really smoothly. I shouldn’t have tried to come away with a win — just tried to meet someone new in a casual way.

Then, afterwards, I could follow up with him via email, using to set reminders and keep the conversation going.

Where does following up lie on the “Give And Take Spectrum”? It’s actually a “give,” because you’re taking the pressure off the other person to get in touch. Nobody likes to make the first move, so you’re doing the hard part for them.

Only after you’ve followed up and established your relationship is it time to talk about what you want. If you’ve played your cards right, the other person might even offer before you can ask.

Get better at balancing your give and take. Sign up for and keep better track of your follow-up emails.

Published by

Matt McCormick

Matt is the host of "7 Minute Sales" - a podcast from the perspective of a developer-founder who is learning to sell and market more effectively. Follow my journey and lessons learned at Matt is also the founder of - A Better Follow Up System for Gmail.