Don’t blame him for being a bad networker.

At the end of each class down at Keith Hafner’s Karate, we get to listen to the lesson of the week. Now, in general, these are lesson that all adults (should) know — goal setting, making friends, conquering fear. I always love it when the topic of good manners comes up. One of the points that the instructor always makes is that good manners are what we expect from ourselves, regardless of how other people act.

The same thing holds true for networking.

I’ve been fortunate to teach about good networking practice in the past. My students really love the tactics for being a good networker at an event. Then they go to an event hoping to practice what they’ve learned.

Not long after that I often hear that they feel a little let down. Apparently they run into a lot of other people who don’t practice good networking. My hopeful students suddenly hate being the target of sales pitches, conversation hogs, and business cards forced into their hands.

So, how should we, as good networkers, deal with the fact that not everyone has progressed beyond a sales mindset when it comes to networking?

  1. Good networking practice is what we do. Pointing out where someone isn’t behaving in accordance with the Rules of Networking ranks right up there with telling someone that they are being rude. It’s unlikely to draw you closer. Focus on your own practice.
  2. Correct with subtlety and finesse. Develop techniques to deal with specific bad practices. Most of these involve breaking the pattern. For example, if someone tries to sell at you during an event, stop them by saying simply, “That’s all good, but who is your target market for this product?” or “So, if I’m in a conversation with someone, what might they say to tell me that I should send them to you?”.
  3. If they make a mistake, forgive. If they hand you a card without your asking, they aren’t trying to be rude. It’s probably just how they learned to network.
  4. If they can’t/won’t make a connection, let them go. Not everyone is a good connection. If they don’t return calls or emails, you wouldn’t feel comfortable referring them anyway.
  5. You are responsible for the relationship. If you find you are hitting it off with someone, the relationship is your responsibility. If we were living in a fair world, then of course they should be responsible for coming half way. Since we aren’t, though, we have to make it our business to maintain the connection.
How we deal with bad networking is a measure of how far we’ve come as good networkers. In a way, we can look at that person trying to sell to us as an opportunity to see how far we’ve come.
It’s a lot better than getting upset about something we can’t do a thing to fix.

Photo credit: Gareth Weeks