The Most Important Networking Rule You're Too Afraid to Follow

Ever attended networking events, only to feel like you’re there to network for the sake of networking? In other words, you’re not doing much networking at all.

The idea of showing up in much of corporate America today is “enough.” You polish yourself up in a suit with your crisp business cards pocketed or your name card ready. The obligatory shaking of hands commences with smiles, and appreciatory comments shimmer across screens afterward: “It was so lovely to connect with you today. We must have coffee and compare industry notes.”

The problem with making connections like this is that they don’t lead anywhere, aside from the pleasantries of professional acquaintanceship. Nothing appears wrong with that at first glance, except for the fact that this categorization creates a distinct separation that bars you from going any deeper in your networking experience with this individual and others.

The truth is, you’re too afraid to follow the most important networking rule: Make friends.

Cultivate Genuine Connections With Real Rapport

Create genuine connections to take your networking to the next level. Here’s the secret to deepen your networking: You need real rapport. That kind of social rapport occurs over intimate dinners and backyard barbecues. It spontaneously arises in a meaningful exchange with a stranger on the bus.

In the middle of it all is you and the other person. You’ve created your own little professional world of networking opportunity. The challenge is seeing beyond the typical bubble of “that’s just how we always do things” to move on to creating and cultivating a genuine connection.

You know what happens when you create a genuine connection? Friendship.

Then, your new friend connects you with someone else in their circle, because they genuinely feel you will get along — and you do. And so forth, and so on. The networking continues — a small drop creates a flowing ripple outward. Like skipping stones, it’s natural, effortless and effective.

Bad Networking Leaves You Feeling Dirty

Instead of wearing their heart on their sleeve — why they’re passionate about what they’re doing and want to connect — some professionals wear desperation and lack the patience to build real rapport when networking.

Leaving a conference makes you want to go home and shower, as the odor of desperation – yours and others – clings to you after. Networking becomes another necessity to check off the daily or monthly to-do list. Schmoozing turns some off professionally — does it leave the individual you network with feeling awkward? Does it impact your future chances of deepening a professional network and benefiting your professional goals?

It depends. Psychology indicates your moral self-image is harmed when you witness yourself engaging in behaviors you consciously or unconsciously find negative, such as how networking can come off as selfish.

One study asked participants to consider their behavior at a time when they intended to form a professional relationship and another time when cultivating a personal connection. Once they described the memory, participants looked at partial fill-in-the-blank words that could be linked with cleanliness or filled in with an unassociated word — for example, given “S _ _ P,” you may answer “step,” “shop” or “soap.” Research indicated professionals were more likely to use word choices linked with cleanliness that indicated a feeling of “dirtiness.” Hand sanitizer, anyone?

Another study among lawyers who felt “ickier” after networking avoided it more and had decreased billable hours as a result, even when the study introduced other controllable factors, such as office location and gender.

Interestingly, those higher up the corporate ladder felt less “dirty” after networking, and tended to seek out instrumental professional connections more regularly through events. Those in leadership roles appear to feel less dirty while networking in the typical way than those climbing the ladder.

Maybe “schmoozing” feels inherently better when you can offer more resources to make up for any guilt that arises from this aspect of faking it until you make it.

The Non-Dirty Guide to Genuine Connectivity

Transparency becomes more key to conducting business every day. It leaves you feeling vulnerable, but your vulnerability presents an opportunity for growth. It represents a chance to uncover a layer of yourself to build a genuine and effective connection with another professional without barring yourself from the benefits of their resources and network — and in return, you can reciprocate.

When professionals talk about breaking the ice during networking, they have to go deeper because corporate ice runs deep, too. Get subtextual with your conversational starters — dig down another layer. Yes, do ask about what someone does, but also ask about why they love doing what they do. When talking to a group, ask: “How do you all know each other?” Earnestly compliment someone on an aspect of their attire, such as a charm on a bracelet.

In today’s technological world, you conduct networking offline and online, but the same intrinsic networking rule applies: Be genuine and make a friend. Reconnect with old college friends to grow and feel inspired in your industry, and reach out to a local professional to have a real conversation about your niche. What interests you deeply about their work?
It’s time to ditch dirty networking once and for all and get real about cultivating genuine connectivity when networking professionally.

After all, networking just boils down to meeting someone and making a connection — whether you do that personally or professionally. Did you make a new friend? Great! That’s effective networking in action.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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