If networking makes you feel dirty, you’re not alone.
In one study, researchers asked a group of people to think about a time they needed to network for professional advancement and another group about a time of social networking to make friends. They then asked each group to complete the word fragments W _ _ H, S H _ _ E R, and S _ _ P.
The first group, those thinking about professional networking, gave words associated with cleanliness: WASH, SHOWER, and SOAP. While the second group came up with more neutral words like WISH, SHAKER, and STEP.
Apparently even thinking about networking causes people to subconsciously identify with the need to become clean.
Which makes sense for everyone who’s ever attended a networking event. You know the one – when you pretend to check your phone 20 times an hour to avoid actually having to talk with anyone.
You can’t help but leave those things with a feeling of inauthenticity. And pocketfuls of business cards that you’ll never use again.
No thanks. I’d rather be at home reading a book – even a book about networking.
And yet, we all know that networking’s important. As our organizations and industries become flatter, more of our influence depends on the depth and breadth of our relationships.
If you don’t believe me, look it up and you’ll see. There’s a list of networking gurus ready to tell you this very thing – all while pedaling their quick fix advice.
I don’t know how someone becomes a networking guru – I’m guessing that the certification process is somewhat of an honor system. But regardless, they’re out there. And they’re ready to tell you about the importance of networking. With plenty of tips on how to survive – nay, thrive – in those networking events.
But here’s the thing. For most of us, all of that advice isn’t worth the electrons spent bringing it to life on our screens. Because if networking carries these negative connotations with it, few of us will bother to even start. Not until we’re in desperate need of a job and have no choice.
What bothers most of us about networking is the inauthenticity of it. It brings to mind a bunch of glad-handing politicians who are only looking to promote themselves. It conjures images of awkward pausers, humble braggers, gaslighters, schmoozers, users, and losers. And that’s not even counting the group that tries to use these events as their own personal dating website.
So the solution needs to redefine networking to something that we’ll actually do.
The value of networking isn’t in the free drinks and Rolodex filler, it’s in the depth of relationships and connections. So networking just needs to focus on improving these two things. And there’s many ways to accomplish this that don’t make you feel as though you need a shower afterwards.
Add Depth to Your Existing Relationships
“Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting.” – Ivan Misner
Many of us have strong relationships with those we see daily and weekly, but we also have a whole host of others that we’ve lost contact with over the years.
Whether it’s old college friends, former coworkers, or anyone else that’s since moved on, most of us do a poor job maintaining relationships with those we don’t see every day. We say that life got in the way – which is really just an excuse for not making these people a priority.
And yet, these relationships can be much more beneficial than many of the ones we develop each day. While we often run in the same circles as our current friends and coworkers, these dormant ties are likely to have unique connections and different ideas compared to our current network.
And unlike complete strangers, there’s already the start of a connection to build from.
James Altucher recommends going through ten-year-old emails and responding as if no time has passed. Jordan Harbinger suggests going to the bottom of your text messages and each day, reaching out to a couple of people. Whatever method works best for you, reserve a couple minutes each day to follow-up with someone.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Many people suggest finding article and book recommendations as a means of initiation. But if it’s too much, you won’t follow through.
A quick note to let someone know that you’re thinking about them and hope they’re doing well is all that’s necessary. Ask how things are going and let them know there’s no rush to reply. Mainly, start a conversation that you can build off going forward.
Put yourself on the receiving end – who doesn’t love getting a kind word from a friend that they haven’t talked to in a couple years? It sure beats being accosted by a stranger armed with business cards and some exciting ways that you can help them out.
Not only that, you’ll be able to continue building relationships without ever setting foot in a networking event. As the co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, put it,
“One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.
Look for Connections Every Day
“Networking is rubbish; have friends instead.” – Steve Winwood
You meet new people every day. Yet few of these interactions result in meaningful connections.
Why not? Because most of us are too busy staring at our phones to take an interest in making new connections. Probably because our phones never create those dreaded awkward pauses.
But awkwardness comes from aimlessness. The reason that many conversations devolve into these situations is that they don’t have a purpose.
So give them one. Not to sell yourself or push your own agenda, but find an interesting connection with the other person.
Everyone has some passion or unique skill. Make it your mission to find this out. People appreciate those who share similar interests and values.
And while people may not remember everything you say, they will remember how you made them feel.
Ask questions when you meet someone new (or newish), but don’t overdo it. The key is to balance questions with your own thoughts and perspectives. Offer helpful suggestions, while bringing the topics back to their areas of interest. People like to talk about themselves. But they rarely enjoy being interrogated.
Above all, be interested in other people. That energy is contagious. And curiosity brings connections. In a world where everyone is waiting for their own opportunity to talk, this behavior will immediately make you stand out.
Not every conversation will lead to a long-term relationship. But some will. And it will keep you from resorting to schmoozing at cocktail hours.
Cultivate an Abundance Mindset
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want,” said Zig Ziglar. And yet, too much networking advice neglects this basic truth.
Too many people limit their relationships because they don’t see the potential for return. And I get it – we’re all busy and need to set priorities on how we spend our time and energy.
But this mindset limits you in two critical ways.
First, no one likes the person who’s constantly looking for their own gains. It’s transparent, no matter how sly these people believe themselves to be. Keeping score in relationships becomes a zero-sum game in which no one comes out the winner. Avoid this transactional mindset at all costs.
Second, when you look for more ways to add value to others, you force yourself to keep growing. You give yourself reasons to develop new skills and cultivate new ideas. All of which expands your overall effectiveness and lets you make deeper connections. Or in the words of Mark Yarnell,
“It’s not about finding great people, it’s about becoming a great person.”
Success comes from an abundance mindset. And reciprocity happens on a macro scale, not within every relationship.
Never underestimate your ability to add value to other peoples’ lives. Often the smallest gesture will have a greater impact than you’d ever think. The important part is to just look for these opportunities and take action. As Monroe Mann wrote in Guerrilla Networking,
“True networking does not mean meeting people; it means becoming the type of person other people want to meet.”
Stop Networking. And Start Building Relationships.
“If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.” – Chinese Proverb
In 1938, Harvard started a study to track the lives of men at both Harvard and throughout inner city Boston. What began with 724 men, expanded over the years to include their wives and over 2000 children.
Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the study, discussed the lessons they’ve learned from studying people for over 75 years in a recent TED talk. In his words,
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
The results repeatedly showed that those who prioritized developing and strengthening relationships lived happier and healthier lives. Through varying levels of fame and fortune, the one constant component for a good life was good relationships.
With the constant pressure to open up new business and side hustle opportunities, remember that the whole purpose of networking is to develop and strengthen relationships. Relationships that will contribute to a fuller and happier life.
These relationships aren’t forged at networking events or through casual interactions – they’re developed through shared connections, trust, and long-term persistence.
And they’re not the result of one-time efforts – they’re built with the actions we take every day. So make it habit. Each day, try to reach out to one dormant relationship, discover one new connection, and find one new way to add value to another person.
The benefits will compound. And best of all, at no point should you feel the need to take a shower afterwards.