I can’t stand the term “networking.” Never have, and hopefully never will. It’s a term and verb that makes me shudder. It carries with it connotations of using others for the sole purpose of getting ahead. It makes me think of little other than selfishness and self importance.
Do I think we need to meet new people? Of course! But, spending time with people we don’t like or don’t want to know just because we think they'll help us get ahead is not what I would call time well spent.
Rethinking the Concept of Time Well Spent
I would much rather spend time with people I think I:
- Will get along with
- Could help or learn from or with
- Could have fun with
- Would like to have by my side and vice versa
- Can relate to
- Can care for on the most basic level
The difference between the list above and the word "networking" is that it considers the humanity involved in any and all relationships—from the passing to the casual to the most intimate.
We can behave transactionally with anything that doesn’t have a sense of self (inanimate objects, organizations, even our environment to some extent) but when we behave this way toward other beings, it costs us by decreasing our quality of life.
True Connection Outweighs Short Term Gains
Not considering others leads to negative energy—for both parties. How we feel about ourselves and others has a great deal to do with whether we believe the exchange is considerate. That is that we consider the parties involved with the most basic level of human decency.
If we feel our thoughts, needs and feelings are being considered and that we're also being considerate on all these levels, the exchange is positive. However, if there's an imbalance of any type, the exchange is negative or, at best, somewhat neutral.
Only positive exchanges are likely to lead to either or both parties seeking each other out for future interaction.
I guess we're a bit like magnets: our interactions have the power to bring us together again, have a neutral effect, or a repulsive effect.
That’s why I love warm introductions. That’s when a friend or acquaintance of yours introduces you to someone they think you might get along with. You're essentially tapping into the positive energy that already exists between them, as opposed to having to establish it from scratch. These introductions respect our human nature. They respect the way communities form, evolve and grow.
Rethinking the Purpose of the Business Card
I think most of us can appreciate how ineffective business card swapping up front is compared to the exchange of business cards after having participated in a conversation that makes us want to not lose touch with the other person.
The resulting feelings of attachment in the latter exchange mean that whenever we come across that business card or that person’s information in our contacts, we feel good about it and may want to connect "just because," or want to consider him/her in upcoming projects or events. We want that positive feeling of interacting again with someone we feel connected to in a positive way.
That’s why I enjoy going to conferences when I know so many friends and friendly acquaintances will be there.
In fact, my favourite “conference” is a conference I don’t consider to be one: FinCon*. It’s a conference for personal finance and lifestyle bloggers/vloggers and many of the folks in attendance—myself included—have the following approach when connecting with others:
Relationship First, Business Second
(And that "business" part? Not a requirement.)
This approach is priceless because it gets rid of the “douchy” WIIFM (what’s in it for me) attitude that does nothing more than keep people apart—thanks to the calculated aloofness that accompanies most initial business interactions and negotiations.
Instead of walking around like peacocks (trying to look like hot sh*t so that others will take note), many of the attendees at this conference tend to trade putting on airs for a wish to be curious about and open to discussing:
- What others are up to
- What makes others tick
- How they might be able to help others out—while expecting nothing in return, well, other than that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from being a nice person
Of particular importance at this conference is that first timers are less likely to feel like outsiders as much as in other settings. There are always first-time jitters, of course. But folks who have attended each and every year seem just as likely to lend an ear and hear your story as the hopeful and somewhat disoriented first timer.
I would say that this type of helpful, open approach is exceedingly rare at conferences, indeed in business in general.
Quite the paradox really, since we seem to understand its power in most other aspects of life. That's why I find it so hard to get my mind around it!
On Being a Decent, Approachable Person
It seems so illogical. We’d never call the following “networking”:
- Being introduced to a friend of a friend because you bump into each other while out and about (it’s just called being polite!)
- Getting recommended by a mutual acquaintance because the other person is in need of the type(s) of service(s) you offer—the mutual acquaintance simply sees it as a way to help both parties out (Because it just feels good!)
- A business owner making a suggestion about other businesses you might be interested in, purely because you shared what it is you’re trying to accomplish and they want to help you out (Because it just feels good!)
- Suggesting a restaurant to a friend because you like the atmosphere and think they’d enjoy it (Because you enjoy being thoughtful.)
- A conversation that results from allowing someone with a few items in hand to go ahead of you at the supermarket checkout (Because you're a reasonable, considerate human being.)
The fact that “FinConners” (as I like to call us) "get it" makes this a conference I affectionately describe as a “non-conference” conference.
It also makes it the one and only conference I’ve attended four times now and that I plan to attend again later this year.*
I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again in seven-months’ time. And, just as important, I’m looking forward to making even more of them, because it’s what makes the experience so rewarding.
We're supposed to only worry about the potential return on investment (ROI) in business, right? At least that's what my business education has always taught me. Well, instead of the term “return on investment,” I suggest we focus on our “relating over investment” ratio because, if we worry about the former, the latter happens effortlessly.
And that makes us all better off over the long term.
*Nope, they have no idea I'm writing this piece. Hope they like it. ;)
**I already have my conference fees, flights and accomodations booed—indeed, I took care of all of these within days of being back home after the last one!