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Is Networking a Dirty Word?

“The single greatest ‘people skill’ is a highly developed and authentic interest in the other person.” — Bob Burg

“So, what do you do?” — [“Oh shit, not again!”].

So there you are, standing around with a lousy coffee in your hand, wearing a suit (wearing a tie, for heaven’s sake!), a little bell goes off every four minutes, everyone is jolly in that awfully forced, über-corporate way, you’ve been given a script of things to ask your next victim, you’ve got a sticky label pressed to your chest, you’re desperately trying to think of other — more interesting — ways of describing what you do and, frankly, the whole thing is complete shite! You’re dying to leave! Yes, you’ve guessed: you’re at a Networking Event!

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

If this is real networking, then yes, networking is a dirty word, the foie gras of human interaction.

But it isn’t. Real, that is. Real networking doesn’t have to be forced, and it doesn’t need to be organized or cut into time chunks. Real networking comes from genuine interest in others, from the ability to actively listen, to set aside self-interest. Because real networking is not about acquisition, selling your services, brow-beating some poor so-and-so at a conference or sending out thousands of desperate leaflets that few will read. It’s simply about being you, being your lovely, natural, authentic, generous self. And if you let it, networking happens naturally, with no effort. It used to be called: talking to people. Along with “going forward” and “bling”, it’s part of a strange, lexicographic makeover. You can network anywhere of course, in the shops, in the queue for your cinema tickets or while you’re waiting for your double de-caff latte to get its cinnamon signature.

There are a few rules that will help.

Max’s Networking Golden Rule #1 is: do not, repeat do not, expect to get anything out of your networking.

If you’re going to a conference, a concert or a party, anywhere you’ll meet new people, leave behind any expectations of gaining from the experience. Expectations will infect your body language, your voice, your choice of words. If you are eyeing up the person opposite for fee potential, they will experience you as predatory. Predatory is deeply unattractive. The only reason you’re there is to meet interesting people and to find out interesting things, to broaden your understanding of the world. To exchange stories. And to enjoy yourself! Particularly important if you want to meet up again and maybe discuss collaboration of some kind.

Your call to fix a meeting will be answered with enthusiasm. Because networking, as the name implies, is a vehicle for multiple goodwill, for spreading that kindness and care we all carry with us, that we gain so much from dispensing. Goodwill goes in all directions and enriches us, and keeps on going, is spread wide and remembered. I believe that any goodwill I create will come back to me, probably in an entirely different guise and totally unexpected, a delight. To be rich, I need to dispense riches. Talking to people — networking — is probably the most effective (and entirely free) way. That indeed is the Power of WOM — word of mouth!

Never underestimate the power of active listening.

Listening is another gift. Most people love talking about themselves, sharing their experiences and stories, so encourage them! Give them an unexpected treat: your full and undivided attention and interest. And don’t answer your phone mid conversation: not only is it rude, it breaks the magic.

Max’s Networking Golden Rule #2 is this: you have two ears and one mouth: use them in that proportion.

And bearing in mind that most really stimulating and memorable conversations are partially self-reflective, asking the odd, incisive question can ensure that everyone learns and benefits. Even repeating a word you’ve just heard, but with a question in your voice — it’s called “uptalk” — as though you’re a Norwegian, can expose the riches of other peoples’ experience and wisdom and encourage deeper reflection, deeper understanding of self.

I’ll sometimes have an outstanding conversation during which there are four interactions occurring simultaneously, you know the ones: you lose any sense of time and you don’t want it to stop.

There I am, listening to the person I’m with; they are listening to themselves as sometimes surprising thoughts come into their mind and are expressed; I am talking to them; and I am listening to the unexpected thoughts that pop up in my head and which I’m sharing.

That is real networking: a four-way exchange of positivity, learning more about them and more about me, and forging strong links based on generosity and respect.

Another good result of real networking, when it’s not a competition for who can say the most, is that you can come across people with shared interests and you realise that you’re not alone, that there are others out there experiencing the same excitements and terrors that are inevitable when running your own enterprise, when the buck stops with you. Because it can be lonely, even when you have people working for you.

Networking can be a way of enticing yourself and others out of those isolated solo-ghettos and into a community of like-minded, lively souls. It can be the cause of life-long friendships or, as in my case, how I met my wife.

Having a way of capturing the contact is important: it used to be we exchanged business cards — I always wrote on both the date, venue and a one-word descriptor of the conversation, thus demonstrating my interest in staying in touch. Nowadays we can use the ubiquitous phone. We might even take a selfie if it’s been a particularly good exchange!

Finally, over to William Montgomery, CEO of ASKTen , who says:

Human beings are naturally social creatures — we crave friendship and positive interactions, just as we do food and water. So it makes sense that the better our relationships are …. the happier and more productive we’re going to be.

Real networking is probably the most effective way of making those vital connections, of building those important relationships and in my experience the extra time it takes is returned ten-fold in goodwill, opportunities and delight in unexpected gifts.

So networking needn’t be a dirty word if you don’t want it to be.

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Max Comfort

Max Comfort

Max Comfort trained at the Architectural Association at the time of Archigram’s plug-in cities, student riots and flower power. | @beta_drops guest writer✒️

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