If politicians are anything to go by, brown-nosing is the new black. This weekend, it emerged that Chancellor Sajid Javid gave Boris Johnson a “stash” of Tignanello wine as a gift when they dined together at Chequers. Did he bring the Tuscan red, which goes for upwards of £80 a bottle, because it’s famously a favourite of the Duchess of Sussex, so much so that she named her blog The Tig after it? Or did he do some research, and discover that the Prime Minister once called the wine “delicious”?
Either way, Javid seems blithely unconcerned about looking like a teacher’s pet. But there are better ways to be a canny networker. Here’s how.
Say what you like about Piers Morgan, but he’s a terrific brown-noser. The Good Morning Britain presenter has landed several interviews with Donald Trump, which is less surprising when you realise their meetings often come strewn with gifts.
During the president’s most recent interview, which coincided with the US state visit, Morgan giggled admiringly at every one of Trump’s jokes – then presented him with a gift: a replica of Winston Churchill’s signature homburg hat, embroidered with the president’s initials. Trump seemed genuinely pleased, albeit slightly nervous at trying it on on camera in case it messed up his hair.
Person-specific gifts such as this can be a very effective way of winning over your boss, says Heather White of Smarter Networking. “Know what your boss is interested in,” she says. “For example, I was networking with a guy recently and he was into craft beers. I found a local brewery that was having an opening day, got an invitation and asked him along.”
However, White is not convinced that gifting your boss expensive wine, as per Javid, will necessarily strike the right note: “If you’re a secretary and your boss is the Vice-President for Europe and you buy him a bottle of wine, it won’t look right.”
Donate your time
Heather McGregor, executive dean of Edinburgh Business School at Heriot Watt University, and author of Careers Advice for Ambitious Women, says that more effective than gifts is donating your time. “It’s easier for wealthy people to send wine than give their time,” she says. “There are only 168 hours in the week, so if you give time to someone else – to look over something they’ve written, or give their children interview advice – that’s how you build real reciprocity.”
It’s a tactic frequently used by Tom Cruise, who has gone far out of his way to help Hollywood stars improve their skills and broaden their own network of contacts. He taught Zac Efron to ride a motorbike. He advised Kanye West on becoming a comedian. He has sent Dakota Fanning a birthday present every year since she was 11.
It still pays to play golf
What do Shinzo Abe, Rudy Giuliani and Rory McIlroy all have in common? Access-all-areas passes for Davos? TED talk survivors? Nope – they’re all recent golf partners of 73-year-old Donald Trump.
It’s an “old-hat” way to schmooze your boss, says Dr Lynda Shaw, a business neuroscientist who advises on networking – but a round of golf might be just the thing if your boss is that old-school. Its slow pace also gives you a long time to ingratiate yourself – and plenty of opportunity to compliment their drive.
If you want to brown-nose on your lunch break, consider “sweatworking”, a mix of exercise and schmoozing. SoulCycle, the fitness chain offering 45-minute spin classes, says bikes in its New York studios are often booked in pairs for this very purpose – a spot of powwowing over the handlebars.
Heather White uses spin-cycling to shore up her contacts books: “One guy was really into cycling and charity fundraising, so we invited him to cycle from Surrey to Paris over four days.” She says that the psychology of getting sweaty with someone helps form a unique bond in business: “You share a lot of moments of vulnerability, a lot of sweat, cheering – even crying.” For peak smarm, let your boss beat you on the hills.
If your boss isn’t in great shape, you could suggest a lunchtime walk in the park instead. “Psychologically, when you’re walking along, you are heading in the same direction so you already feel partly in agreement,” says Dr Shaw. “You also feel better because you’re exercising outside, so you get the benefit from those positive neurotransmitters, too.”
Buy your way in
If you lack both fitness and charm, you could resort to cold hard cash – of sorts. Charity auctions regularly feature business internships or advice sessions, which parents can bid for in the hope of helping their children up the greasy pole.
McGregor says she regularly offers an hour of career advice at charity auctions, but is often unimpressed with the offsprings who come along; most don’t “write and say thank you”, she says. “In fact, I could name very few people who have stayed in touch.” An opportunity missed for most, then.