When I hear about networking events or activities related to ‘networking,’ I cringe. It conjures up feelings such as; forced, phoney, programmed, robotic, insincere, lacklustre, trying too hard, stiff, inauthentic … you get my drift.
This is not to be mistaken with Social Networking. That’s a whole other story. There are courses and workshops on “How to effectively Network.”
I find however that there is always one missing key element to it; connecting with people.
In my opinion, we’re thinking about this the wrong way. No two people should be networking the same. I believe it’s having a negative effect on us both personally and professionally.
From a personal aspect networking quite often is associated with induced stress and anxiety. The feeling of “being thrown to the lions.” Our fight or flight response kicks into high gear. That’s not good.
Yeah, yeah, I’m all for getting out of your comfort zone, and being “comfortable with being uncomfortable” …. And yet to me; Forced conversations + Fear = Disaster
In fact. Let’s STOP calling it networking right here and now. Let’s create a new language. Let’s put some breathing space around what we’re doing in order to create a more positive and satisfying mindset. An empowering mindset. Let’s take a more joyful approach. Set ourselves up for success. Let’s call it; building relationships.
How does that feel to you?
Here’s the thing. I don’t believe that building relationships should be forced. Ever. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for ‘gatherings,’ and yet, with the mindset of having the opportunity to meet new people and share ideas.
I’ll try and bring this all home for you.
For the purpose of this story, I’m going to use the word ‘Networking.’ This is a perfect scenario where networking was ridiculous (and humorous).
Recently I was at a LinkedIn local Meetup. I was invited by the organizer. We were going to meet for breakfast the next day. Plans changed. I now needed to be out of town. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to put a face to a name. Have a brief conversation. He knew I was coming.
I walked into the building where the event was being held. It was a small venue. I purposely arrived early to connect with the organizer. Which I did. Briefly. Very briefly.
He walked toward me. I gave him a big smile thinking he recognized me. In fact, he was eyeballing a table and chair. He was sitting down to review what was on his phone. I went over and said; “Hello [name goes here], my name is Amy.” I put context around who I was. I didn’t want to assume. He looked up for a second and said; “Hi.” I picked up that he was busy. He was reviewing his notes. I said; “I can see that you’re busy. I’ll leave you to it.” And started to say I hope we can catch up later. Nope. He quickly dismissed me.
This. Is. A. Networking. Meetup. Priorities were a little askew.
Ok. I get it. He was prepping. However. It was a small gathering of which he’s done hundreds of times before. He chose to prep rather than pause to briefly connect. Oh, did I mention that he brands himself as “It’s ALL about connection.” [laugh track]
Putting ego aside, I proceeded to “Network.”
The word ‘Networking’ was used about 15 times throughout the evening. The organizer encouraged everyone to network before the more formal part of the evening started.
It felt like a game.
Networkers start your timer. Ready. Set. Go.
It felt like speed dating, and you know how those turn out. Not well. It felt so forced. At one point I overheard a person giving their ‘elevator pitch.’ They asked for a ‘do over.’
Moving on. As the networking continued, I joined a small group of people that were gathered. They were all talking at one another, rather than with each other.
…. Then this happened.
Within this small group was a woman that was constantly looking at the phone that she had in her hand. She would ask a person’s name whom she was speaking with and then proceeded to type on her phone. When it came to me, I started to strike up a conversation. After all, we were right there. In the room together. Facing one another.
Rather than speak with me, she asked my name and went right to her phone. I watched. She had the LinkedIn page open. She typed in my name in the search bar. She clicked ‘connect.’
I kid you not. She had little interest in having a conversation. It was if she was collecting people. For the sake of collecting people.
Needless to say, I DID NOT accept her LinkedIn invitation to CONNECT.
In hindsight, I WISH I had pointed out what she was doing. I WISH I had conveyed to her that her method was a sure-fire way to turn people off. And yet, come to think of it, no one seemed bothered by it. Maybe they were like me using their internal voice, thinking; “You’re an idiot.”
It was as if this group had been taught or conditioned to network this way. You see …. the word ‘Networking’ makes people do this!
What happened to being ourselves. To being genuine and authentic. Being curious. To connecting and communicating in a meaningful way. Is this a lost art?
What can we learn from this?
If we replace the word or function of ‘Networking’ with building ‘Relationships’ would that shift your thinking? Your approach? The way in which you connect with others?
A word of advice if I may. Stop worrying about elevator pitches and introductions, and start listening. Really listening.
Overtime as you get to know people share/send them relevant information/resources where you know it will help them personally and/or professionally.
Three things to consider
(Excerpted from J. Kelly Hoey author of “Build Your Dream Network”) – Note: I’m making an exception with the word ‘Network.’ Her heart is in the right place.
- Networking is about enhancing your people skills. It’s every human interaction from your smile in the elevator to your voicemail message. Forget “working the room” and insert more empathy into how you connect with colleagues every day.
- Network your expertise! Volunteer to mentor. Join an industry committee. Contribute to a company blog. 70% of career opportunities are attributed to word-of-mouth referrals. To advance your career, it’s not simply who you know or what you know but who knows what you know.
- Avoid “group think” by expanding your network. Ensure you’re connecting with people outside your professional field, social circle, age demographic, and geographic location
On a final note. Keep it real.