What Your Network is Saying About You

What’s on the iPod: Just As Well by Jackie Greene

Over the weekend, I had a nice conversation with one of my daughter’s friends. We were talking about her work, my work, and we ended up on the subject of networking. After listening to her experiences at a local networking event, I came away with one message:

Too many people are failing — massively — at networking.

Because she’s an art teacher, her networking is about meeting people, not selling people. She said she was shocked by how people were handing each other business cards and then launching into monologues. “There was no connection — nothing,” she told me.

Not the greatest impression to leave, is it?

She also said there were plenty of problems she saw. And you know something? Her complaints are exactly the ones I had after my first (and last) local networking event. Here’s where people go wrong, and what you can do to avoid making a pest of yourself:

The focus is on selling. That’ exactly the opposite of what it should be. Networking should be about creating a connection, making a friendship (even business people want to connect with friends), and exchanging information. Think of networking as the first step in your marketing process. You get to know someone so you can stay in touch and, eventually, see if there’s opportunity to work together.

The monologue replaces the conversation. Maybe people don’t know what to talk about, but it sure as hell isn’t about their products or how they can make your life easier if you’d just hire them. Networking is like meeting a new friends at a party (hey, you are). Ask them what they do, where they live, how long they’ve been attending the event, if they have survival tips or favorite connections they could recommend, etc. It’s not hard — just ask questions.

The approach is way too strong. I received an invitation to a local networking group, which I accepted. The response from the group leader made me instantly doubt my decision — it was 100 percent sales pitch. “We need to meet. Send me your number and we’ll get together.” I won’t go into the entire note, but it read a bit pushy to me. I don’t like pushy. No one does. Had this leader dialed it back a notch, I’d have been eager to meet.

There’s no eye contact. I’ve been in situations where the people I’ve met and I exchanged cards and then they launched into their monologue while scanning the room. Nothing says “You matter little to me” than a person who’s busy looking for bigger fish. Even if they were looking for the dessert cart, it doesn’t matter. If you’re not making eye contact, the message you send is you’re not present and the person in front of you is unimportant to you.

They cut people off mid-sentence. This has happened a few times to me. I listen patiently for the person to stop talking, then when they ask (if they ask) what I do, my answer is almost always interrupted with a hand to the forearm as they see that one person whom they’ve been trying to land. And they’re gone.

There’s no curiosity about the other person. This one really, really bugs me. People even in casual situations will go on and on about themselves. One question and they launch. But never do they ask a single question in return. I’ve had people say “She’s so nice.” How the hell would they know? Maybe because I didn’t faint from boredom or tell them to shut up like others may have.

Writers, what major networking fails have you been witness to?

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  • Paula April 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Oh my gosh, your last few lines seem like the story of my life. I listen patiently, and as soon as I get three words out the person either changes the subject back to themselves or says, "I'll have to let you go now." Rude. Rude. Rude.

    A couple weeks back I interviewed a news anchor who said the best piece of advice she ever got was: Listen. She said when she first started as a reporter she would ask her next question without listening to the person's answer. (Shades of Larry King, huh? I used to watch his show now and then just to count how many times he asked questions the other person had already answered.) She said it's also amazing how few parents bother to listen to their kids.

    If more people listened, the world might be a better – or at least less confusing – place.

  • Lori Widmer April 22, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Agreed, Paula! As much as I'm not a fan of Terry Gross (NPR), she does listen.

    Listening is a lost art form. My late mother-in-law was a master at it. She would rarely answer questions in any detail, but she would ask numerous questions to get to know someone. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) loved her.

    The news anchor is so right.