For some reason, I vividly remember this one particular moment when I was walking out of the business college my freshman year. I was a few steps behind a group of guys who had just gotten out of a business fraternity meeting. They were all wearing suits and talking about how there were “some great networking opportunities coming up.” They kept emphasizing the networking aspect of what they were doing, as though they’d be earning career points simply through the act of meeting other business people.
That was the first time I’d really noticed the word, and it has retained its negative connotations ever since. Sometimes it’ll slip into a conversation, and I’ll immediately regret saying it.
Networking is typically short-sighted and often sleazy. It’s meeting a person with the intention of using them towards accomplishing your goals. You come to the table with an agenda and are already thinking of how you can use that person to your advantage, without ever considering what they want and how you might be able to help them. They tell you their story, and you begin to mentally categorize them as “useless” or “useful.”
The people who are legitimate “networkers,” or whatever you want to call them, place a high value on relationships. They genuinely enjoy meeting others and helping them. They don’t slide you their business card within a minute of meeting you, because they know swapping business cards is worthless if you have no genuine interest in the person it belongs to. They treat others as people, instead of as means to an end. And if they happen to need assistance on a project, they don’t think, “I can use this guy to help me.” They think, “I can really offer this guy a great opportunity here, and we’ll both get some value out of it.” A real networker’s needs don’t come first; they’re more concerned with the people they’re talking to.
I’ve also noticed that real networkers don’t keep a mental list of favors they are owed. If you can’t help them out after they’ve helped you, they will not hold it against you. They hope for the best, but are understanding if you can’t bring something to the table right away.
This all goes back to what you were taught when you were young about how to be a good friend. So why do so many people take on this transactional networking mentality in business situations? Treating others like human beings isn’t particularly difficult, but not enough people actually do it.