Let me start this off with a giggle…a how NOT to network video I found.
Networking. It started out as a simple idea. In this increasingly disconnected and mobile society, why not build a web of trusted professionals, experts and social connections to help each other with advice, services and referrals? Everyone would benefit, and we would be able to recreate the trusted circles of decades long gone by.
But somewhere along the way, it went horribly wrong…it became a game of “what can you do for me?” Articles and books popped up advising people on how to spot the “valuable” people at events and gatherings (ala “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.)” Advice was offered on how to dispose of business cards from “useless” people as soon as possible, and how to perfect and deliver your elevator pitch to everyone you meet.
Suddenly, networking became a dirty word…a code for self-promotion and building up business leads.
I hate to say this, but networking has been ruined by the American male model of business. Well, not entirely by them, but the big push to “use” people through the network model came from the corporate idea that people are useful (or not) depending on what they can do for me. (I am not guy-bashing here. Or America bashing. It’s a cultural reality. And by the way, men in other cultures don’t work this way….anyone trying to discuss business without spending a significant time socializing first would be considered quite rude in a number of countries.)
Networking isn’t about using people…
or seeing them as a means to an end.
It’s about building connections
that help us all.
And while a lot of American women bought into the corporate model, women have also had a different approach that came way before the term for formal networking was coined. It was called connecting. Meeting people. Making friends. Getting to know people. (Can we all launch into a chorus of “Getting to Know You” now? Yeah, I’m a theatre geek, too! But I did warn you this was the Broadway version!)
And the traditionally female approach turns networking as we know it now on its head. Watch a group of women at an event like MomCom. They ask each other’s names. They share information about themselves AND they ask questions about the others. Some of it is business information, to be sure. But with very few exceptions, it’s not about selling their service or product. It’s about building a connection, and getting to know who’s sitting across from them.
And then, (and I have seen this time and time again), someone will ASK for a business card. Others at the table who have been part of the conversation will ask too. And the woman asking, will offer hers, too, along with an invitation to talk more at another time, to meet or make a call sometime after the event.
At that point — miracle of miracles (without the Fiddler), REAL networking STARTS to happen. Business cards tucked away, the conversation continues. It might be about business topics or about the event or about family. Most of the time, it’s a mix. It’s people getting to know people. Sharing. Seeing beyond the title on the card or the possible “usefulness” of the person.
Don’t get me wrong. Business happens. Professional relationships are often established at events like the Texas Conference for Women or MomCom or a women’s professional meetup. But it happens more in context of whole people meeting whole people.
So here’s a challenge to you, ladies. Let’s take back networking, and get it off the dirty word list. Let’s go back to building connections instead of building lists of prospects, and leave the elevator pitch, well, in the elevator.
If you’re not sure how to start, or what genuine win-win networking looks like, invest in events like MomCom and experience the difference. Then take that back to your business or professional gatherings. Just remember that networking isn’t about using people…or seeing them as a means to an end. Take it back and make it about people instead.