Ask anyone for networking advice, or how to monetize your social contacts, and they’ll likely tell you to “build relationships.” What does this look like? Instead of hitting up strangers for work, you get all dressed up for networking events where you eat small bites of cheese and stale crackers and pretend to be really interested in their lives, in hopes that they’ll one day hire you for something because you seemed really nice. A plethora of business card exchanges take place, and you go home exhausted from all that fake smiling, and then do the whole thing over again.
My advice? Stop. Just stop.
Why? Because “building relationships” by being fake nice to people in hopes of something in return is manipulative, and it poisons the well. Enough new “friends” who are secretly–or not-so-secretly–scouting for work and everyone is suddenly paranoid when someone is genuinely nice to them, wondering what it is that they actually want.
I’m not saying that getting to know people is a bad thing. I am saying that treating people like numbers to help you on the way towards your goal is ruining “real” networking for people who actually just want to associate with like-minded folks without expectations of anything in return.
People are not numbers.
If you’ve ever been to a store to buy an appliance and felt like your newfound friend was very upset after spending a ton of time showing you options when you didn’t go with the one they selected, or even (gasp!) decided to think about it and come back another day, you know what it feels like to be treated like a number, or a stepping stone to someone’s quota. It’s not fun. But hey, at least you expected it in a store. Attempts to build one-sided relationships at industry events create a bad dynamic, and ultimately stop people from wanting to attend altogether.
So instead of attending networking events in hopes of meeting people who will give you a cookie in the future, why not try being real?
Here’s my strategy:
- I don’t go to any event that I’m not absolutely intrigued by. That means that I might go to the Hack Factory to learn lockpicking because I think it’s fascinating, but I won’t go to BNA meetings, even though I could probably profit off of their nepotism with a slew of referrals.
- I don’t talk to anyone I’m not genuinely interested in, and not just because I’m hoping to get something from them. I only talk to people I actually like and want to get to know. (I only work with people I like and want to get to know, but they’re a teeny subsection of people I want to talk to either at industry events or cocktail parties.)
- I don’t engage in weird politics where I feel like I’m competing for someone’s attention, or surrounding them when they’re trying to leave the room. This creates a competitive, cutthroat-like dynamic, and I’d much rather bow out.
- If someone is in line to talk to someone, I gracefully step aside to give them their turn. I already talked to someone, now they get to, and we can both follow up when we want. It’s all good.
- I don’t give people referrals just because we’re friendly. I only pass on names if I’m absolutely sure their work is high quality or if I’ve had experience with them in the past. Likewise, I don’t expect referrals from people just because we’re friends. I’m perfectly happy keeping referrals and friendships separate.
- Again, if I happen to be meeting with someone socially, even if they can potentially do something for me in the future, I don’t make that the point of our meeting, nor do I expect it. I apply like everyone else.
Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love meeting new people and talking to them about their projects, and helping people with whatever it is they’re working on. And I am absolutely not afraid of selling or marketing. I just try not to muddle the two.