For some reason, I vividly remember this one particular moment when I was walking out of the business college my freshman year.  I was a few steps behind a group of guys who had just gotten out of a business fraternity meeting.  They were all wearing suits and talking about how there were “some great networking opportunities coming up.”  They kept emphasizing the networking aspect of what they were doing, as though they’d be earning career points simply through the act of meeting other business people.

That was the first time I’d really noticed the word, and it has retained its negative connotations ever since.  Sometimes it’ll slip into a conversation, and I’ll immediately regret saying it.

Networking is typically short-sighted and often sleazy.  It’s meeting a person with the intention of using them towards accomplishing your goals.  You come to the table with an agenda and are already thinking of how you can use that person to your advantage, without ever considering what they want and how you might be able to help them.  They tell you their story, and you begin to mentally categorize them as “useless” or “useful.”

The people who are legitimate “networkers,” or whatever you want to call them, place a high value on relationships.  They genuinely enjoy meeting others and helping them.  They don’t slide you their business card within a minute of meeting you, because they know swapping business cards is worthless if you have no genuine interest in the person it belongs to.  They treat others as people, instead of as means to an end.  And if they happen to need assistance on a project, they don’t think, “I can use this guy to help me.”  They think, “I can really offer this guy a great opportunity here, and we’ll both get some value out of it.”  A real networker’s needs don’t come first; they’re more concerned with the people they’re talking to.  

I’ve also noticed that real networkers don’t keep a mental list of favors they are owed.  If you can’t help them out after they’ve helped you, they will not hold it against you.  They hope for the best, but are understanding if you can’t bring something to the table right away.

This all goes back to what you were taught when you were young about how to be a good friend.  So why do so many people take on this transactional networking mentality in business situations?  Treating others like human beings isn’t particularly difficult, but not enough people actually do it.

10 comments on “Networking…

  1. EXACTLY. You’ve got this right on, Charlie.

    Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, wrote:

    “I didn’t think of it as cold and impersonal, the way I thought of networking. I was, instead, connecting — sharing my knowledge and resources, time and energy, friends and associates, and empathy and compassion in a continual effort to provide values to others, while coincidentally increasing my own.”

    That is how people should approach “networking,” but not many people do… “connecting.”

    Great post!

  2. See, that’s why I WOULDN’T read it. The idea that you should read a book on how to build genuine relationships with people is pretty much the antithesis of what you’re talking about.

    In fact, I guarantee the people in the business fraternity are all big fans of it.

  3. I won’t dispute that last sentence, but I do disagree with avoiding the book entirely.

    A business frat bro might read the book, looking for “secrets” to squeezing the most out of people. But someone who’s coming from a good place would read it in hopes that they could enrich their relationships even more. As with everything, it depends on the reader’s interpretation. Just because a few idiots have read a book doesn’t mean it should be dismissed as a book for idiots.

  4. To me, an (good) author writes (a book, a blog post — anything) because he or she is trying to communicate something. I read books because I’m interested in what the author is trying to say and I want to learn.

    You can learn by doing, through trial and error…or if and when it’s possible, you can learn from someone else — and one way is to read.

  5. hahaha i went to my first networking event last night. I didnt know places exist where people just meet each other to use each other for something.

    It all seemed like a backwards speed dating event thus I found it awesome. The place was abound with socially retarded people and the type of people that watch every communication step they make. You know those type of people that try so hard to press a facade of professionalism on to you in hopes of making it look like they have value.

    I realized that outside of this setting regardless of their business ‘rank’ i wouldnt want to meet most of these people.

  6. If it means anything, I didn’t think much of Never Eat Alone–too much about tactics of trying to keep in touch w/tons of people–like calling when you’re sure you’ll just be getting VM.

    Sure, it might work better–and yet it’s rather hollow–I don’t want to be a transactional machine… I’d rather be a guy who knows a few select people who are really hard working, really responsible, and in diversely different areas… that way they’re my friends, not just acquaintances…

    (and this from a guy you’ve called one of the best networkers you know ;)

    And yeah–if someone tracks favors–that’s a sure sign of a bad networker. If I can’t trust you to put others first, I don’t want you in my network ’cause I can’t trust you’ll put other people I intro you to first…

  7. Completely agree with Ryan–and Never Eat Alone is abysmal. I had to put it down half-way through because it was so self-serving.

    I know it sounds cheesy, but I think that your networking philosophy parallels “How to make friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. Written in the 30s, it’s a damn classic.

    And regarding networking: what about thinking of it as bringing rock-stars into your social circle, not necessarily an exploitative relationship?

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