June 2012 Bar Bulletin
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June 2012 Bar Bulletin

Connections: The Tao of Give and Take

By Robert W. Zierman


Last month, the law library's Kris Henderson did an excellent job of providing a number of resources available to increase one's ability to "network" within the nuanced context of "rainmaking."1 This month, the focus moves beyond the overall structure of a network and its general macro-level operation. Instead, the focus is on the more immediate situations confronted when people "give and take" to those within their network - their "connections."

That "give" precedes "take" is the most important lesson here - a lesson offered to recent graduates and legal practitioners alike.

Yours truly is a former "China Hand" with adequate experience to offer insights regarding the "art" of networking in China.2 At one point, I wrote an article called "Game Theory and Guanxi,"3 which helps to illuminate in a few vignettes just how pointed the Chinese understanding of the importance of giving really is. I republish two examples from the November 2007 issue of the expat magazine Ningbo Guide.

Example #1: Fighting for the right to pay the bill. Among friends and longtime associates in the same city, this seems to amount to the right to have a future favor owed.

Example #2: The unexpected offer of a gift from a Chinese friend. Similar to the example above, this amounts to pre-positioning so that the giver can "make an ask" for a favor in the future.

My article also references a quotation attributed to the Roman philosopher and lawyer Cicero. Specifically, I quoted: "There is no duty more indispensable than that of returning a kindness. All men distrust one forgetful of a benefit."4

Okay, let's "add it up." You give and then someone owes you. So, at some point in the future you get. Sounds like the conversation at the beginning of "The Godfather" in which Michael instructs Kay that his father cannot deny a request on the day of his daughter's wedding. But, it comes with a price; a "task" performed now means a future "request" by Don Corleone must be honored.

But we are not in China or New York's Little Italy. Most people in America simply don't "keep score." In other words, Cicero would give them a "failing grade."

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