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The Down Side of Networking: Trading Up

August 25, 2010

Not long ago I attended one of those industry conventions – you know, several days of no-holds-barred! sessions and seminars followed by informal networking opportunities which are lubricated with heavy appetizers and alcohol.

It’s really fun.

This is generally a good idea, to mingle with complete strangers, since I like meeting people and making new friends and connecting with potential business contacts. We’re all in this together, is how I see it.

But on this particular occassion, I found myself randomly mingled with a fellow who thought he could have done better.

“What company are you with?” he asked. I told him. He tilted his head and scrunched up his eyebrows, calculating whether or not I should be on his target list.

“And what is it that you do there?” he continued. Standard introductory networking questions. No problem. I explained my role and the reason I was at the conference, trying to sound smart and legit. As I was speaking, he seemed to immediately lose interest, and started scanning the room.

I tried to engage him in conversation by asking what he thought about the state of the industry, as touted by a speaker in one of the sessions.

He replied with some shallow answer as his eyes continued to dart around the room, looking in every direction but my face. I tried valiantly to hold up my end of the conversation with witty chatter and insight, and then it dawned on me.

He was trading up.

Sure enough, his eyes soon locked on to a suitable passer-by, and he quickly exited with a “Sorry, I’ve got to talk to this guy.”

I know the word you are thinking of right now to describe this man, a word that sounds like “aerosol.” I would say that you are definitely in the ballpark.

Apparently, I was not quite in the league that he was shooting for, as our conversation would not lead him to a sale, or a deal, or an important connection. In fact, he made it clear, I was a waste of his time.

And me? Well, I was just looking to get to know people, maybe learn something new or share some war stories and find some common ground.

So the lesson here – well, really, must I spell it out? He made me feel like an idiot.

If this gentleman could not bring himself to be real or authentic with me, another human being who happens to be at a networking event, then what makes you think he would be any different with the ones who actually are his business targets? Either way, his interactions are contrived and manipulative.

Who wants to do business with someone like that?

That’s one of the things I like most about Jesus. You get the feeling that he made each person feel like they were the most important person in the universe at the moment he was speaking to them. He zoned in and saw only their need, their personal mess, their incredible potential – whether it was for five seconds or five days. He saw who he was talking to.

I don’t care if it’s business or your family or the acquaintance you run into at the grocery store. The person who is in front of you at any given moment is worth it. And I can assure you that it is entirely within the realm of possibility to pay attention when someone is speaking to you.

Even at a business networking event.

Photo by Nancy Rosback.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 6:02 am

    One time, when I was in exactly your place, the other person kept looking around, half-listening to what I was saying, and I just stopped and watched him. He finally realized what he was doing and apologized, explaining that he wasn’t trying to be rude but that he was desperately trying to find and meet the speaker for the next session, because he’d heard the speaker’s company and department were doing a lot of hiring. I told him I’d heard the same thing, and he nodded, and kept looking around. I politely excused myself.

    He was in the front row for the talk, and you can’t imagine the surprise on his face when the speaker was introduced, and I walked to the podium.

    You’re absolutely right, Brad, the person you’re talking to should be the most important person in the world

    • August 26, 2010 4:53 am

      Psych!

      What a great story. Yeah, you never know who it is you’re talking to. Unfortunately I did not have quite the come-uppance in store for this dude.

    • August 27, 2010 4:36 pm

      Love this story Glynn!

  2. Jolly permalink
    August 25, 2010 8:19 am

    People like that believe in the old advertising saying ,’whats in it for me? ‘ So it was what’s in her for me ! Surprisingly , People like this tend to do well at work for they know who or what is going to help them up the ladder. These are the Alexanders of todays world, they will use and throw people when done with . If you are looking for a human with a soul, thats not him …

    • August 26, 2010 4:56 am

      Interesting point – Don’t you think these people might be able to change? To open up their eyes and see their sorry, empy condition?

      You are right, though. When you deal with these kinds of people you wonder if there is any good at all in their souls. And there are plenty out there. Lucky for me, I deal less and less with this kind of person.

  3. August 25, 2010 9:08 am

    I’m always surprised at how inept most people are when it comes to networking events. Glynn’s comment makes a great point – you never know who the person you’re talking to is or who they know. I’ve learned not to take it personally but some days it is difficult.

    If I feel the person just lacks real networking skills, I’ll ask them who they’d really like to meet at the event. Then, I try to connect them with that person. That’s my goal at networking event – to be a matchmaker. I’ve had great results with this approach.

    If I feel the person is just a jerk, I just excuse myself from the conversation. It’s tempting to let them know what a jerk they’re being, but you just never know when your paths will cross again. There’s nothing like the pit in your stomach when you walk into a boardroom and see that person across the table after dismissing them.

    • August 26, 2010 4:58 am

      Matchmaker? Excellent idea. Now, there’s something to write a blog post about! That’s really about helping people reach their own goals, rather than completely focusing on your own agenda. Great attitude to go into one of these events with.

  4. Loren Paulsson permalink
    August 25, 2010 3:18 pm

    Networking feels really daunting to me. So thanks for the reminder that it’s just about caring and engaging with others—one at a time.

  5. August 25, 2010 7:39 pm

    wow… how rude! love the ending tho.

  6. August 27, 2010 4:41 pm

    I think I will stay in my comfort zone and stay away from networking events. I’ll keep praying for you brave souls who keep trying though!

  7. August 28, 2010 4:44 pm

    I network with people who seem fun. I tend not to network with “important people” who are no fun. Glynn and Bradley, you guys are both so fun!

    I think your story can also be related to the blog world. We should connect to people we really find cool and forget about what they can “do for us.”

  8. August 29, 2010 1:19 pm

    Parasol?

    The guy is a toad who doesn’t get it. At all. He needs to read, “Work the Pond,” by Darcy Rezac. It’s one of my all-time favorite books on networking.

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