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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Second: Enjoy Networking but Stay Focused

(April 27, 2010, published at DYP Advisors)

Professionals know that networking is important to their success. I have been thinking about how and why we network.

Humans are amazingly, almost psychotically, adaptive animals. It should be strange that we throw ourselves out of airplanes but there are entire industries shoving us out of planes, off bridges and down into waterfalls. How much easier it is acclimating to professional meetings! Maybe too easy: once intimidating, these events now mainly hold promise of wine and friendly reunions.

Of course, everyone should feel at ease to be themselves. We have strengths and we should practice presenting our best sides in public because, after all, they are our own home-grown best sides.

But develop too casual an attitude and you might start mistaking these events as social gatherings. Cliques develop, individuals grow clingy or, worst of all, over familiarity leads to behavior that crosses professional boundaries. If your inbox is not as active as you’d like and nothing educational has penetrated your skull in a while, stop and take stock.

Meet People: That Is The Point Of Networking

First of all, as fabulous as your friends are, if you spend time exclusively with them, you neglect others. Your network cannot grow without meeting new people. All the cool kids know that.

Friendly Does Not Equal Friends
Second, familiar faces are not automatically friends. Friendship is a mysterious alchemy but one that certainly requires mutual investments of time outside the event. No matter how friendly a person is, do not corner him with your involved story. Err on the side of polite consideration. If destined to be friends, you can burden him with your long stories later.

Behave Professionally While Networking
Lastly, you are not in your living room. Just as if you were in the office, you are being compared to colleagues and work places. Even if you attend with friends, behave professionally until you leave. If someone overhears your racy joke, inappropriate remark or criticism, it will be remembered. In fact, your friend might count it against you because of the embarrassment of putting her in the position where she cannot correct you publicly but cannot escape you. Do not publicly broadcast character flaws.

You might (defensively) say, “That’s part of my charm!” No. Just as we have a genuine best side to showcase, we have areas that need work. Managing the slow death of negative qualities is hard, unpleasant, personal work. You need to contain it. Events are not the place for either getting drunk or discussing your drinking problem. Whether or not a particular mischievous joke is funny is irrelevant when it is inappropriate. Everyone deals with issues. No one wants to bring yours into the office.

How To Refocus While Networking
In order to refocus, assess your feelings, adjust attendance . . . and go take a hike! Most people lose focus because of burn out. Schedule some social time with friends/family (outside these events!) and avoid growing jaded and bored. Skydive, snorkel or surf and remember why your profession is important to you and to society. Remember how fortunate you are to attend these events, meet new people and keep that positive attitude with you.

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