The Man analyzes the art of networking
A few weeks ago I found myself at one of those tedious events where business folk gather to wear nametags, talk loudly, and pat one another on the back. I’d been dragged there by the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company. I had not wanted to attend. I find these types of mixers similar to a prostate exam: awkward, uncomfortable, invasive, and all done while standing up. The beautiful blonde said, “Come on, it will be a good networking opportunity.” She should have known that wouldn’t change my mind since I tend to avoid anything with the word work in the title. “Forget it, I’m not going,” I said. She then gave me the look that translates to “It’s adorable when you try to put your foot down.” Finally, she played her ace: “There’ll be free booze.”
The problem with networking is that most people are not very good at it. It’s sort of like a tango: anyone can do it but there is an enormous difference between moving effortlessly and simply following the steps. Over the years I’ve come to realize the people who excel at networking are the same ones who excel at friendships. It comes naturally to them. But why? Is it charisma? Is it charm? Is it something one is born with, or can it be learned?
At one point during this particular event, I became trapped in an endless conversation with a man whose favorite subject was himself. He told me about his career, his golf game, his worldwide travels, his brilliant children, his new home. No matter what I said he somehow managed to bring the topic back to himself. I decided this is what it must feel like to be caught in an undertow. This man was certainly important, but I wanted a piano to fall on him.
On the other hand, later in the evening I ran into a gentleman I had met briefly at another event a month or so earlier. This man remembered my name, asked about my children and my current work, and inquired to my thoughts on various subjects. No matter what I asked him, he seemed to bring the conversation back to my favorite subject, me. This guy was a natural. I was ready to drive him to the airport or help him move.
On the way home I told the beautiful blonde, a networking natural herself, about my two distinctly different encounters. “Being impressed is always better than being impressive,” she said. I’ve since formed a friendship with the second man and have discovered he is far more successful than the self-absorbed undertow. And isn’t that how it should be? Shouldn’t our success mirror our sincerity? Shouldn’t our relationships themselves be a large part of how we define success?
Yesterday I asked the beautiful blonde if there were any more networking opportunities coming up. “There’s one next week but you won’t go,” she said. “Why not?” I asked. She then spoke the two words that always make me cringe: “Cash bar.”