I don’t think they want to network.

I just got back from my annual pilgrimage to Atlanta for the Dragon*Con Science Fiction Convention. Just me and around 40,000 of my best geek friends having a lot of fun and meeting the folks who bring us all of the wonderful stories that we enjoy so much.

As an aside, the next several posts will be touching on some of the networking concepts I ran into while on my little break. Bear with me and I’ll try not to bore you with the nerdy details.

At any rate, on the flight down to Atlanta, I was seated next to a gentleman who was in all ways a respectful and polite fellow traveler. He just preferred not to talk. Oh, I said “hello” and made a very short attempt to start a conversation, but, while he was in no way rude, he clearly didn’t want to chat.

And, you know what? I was fine with that.

I’ve heard a number of “networkers” saying that they love networking on the airplane because they have a captive audience who has nothing better to do than to chat.

Says who?

As with all things having to do with good networking, the best results are when we keep the other person’s feelings in mind. It’s up to us to be aware of when we should take off our “networking hat” and just enjoy a companionable silence. Here are a few things to watch for that might tell you that they might not appreciate your efforts.

  1. They have some other means of passing the time. This is especially important on the aforementioned airplane trip. If they pull out a book, or some paperwork, chances are that’s what they want to be doing at that moment.
  2. They are asleep or are trying to sleep. OK, this should go without saying, but pretend that the person you are focusing on is a two-year-old. Waking them up or preventing them from sleeping when they need it will lead to no good.
  3. They are otherwise distracted. Chatting with someone who is trying to get their work done, or is anxious about some upcoming event, or who is trying to deal with an overactive two-year-old probably won’t garner the results you would like. Wait for them to complete whatever it is before you try to make the connection.
  4. They are talking with someone else (sometimes). This is one where you need to be aware of body language. If heads are leaning toward each other or the body positions are “closed” (either squared up with each other or facing away from the rest of the room), then you will be intruding, not interacting. If the grouping is shoulder-to-shoulder and facing outward, then that’s an “open” position and it wouldn’t be remiss to join in the conversation.
  5. You are talking with someone else (sometimes). Be with the one you’re with. If you are having a conversation with someone, then don’t be looking around the room for someone else to speak with. If, however, someone does approach your grouping, feel free to include them in the conversational circle.
Notice, none of these reasons include anything about whether you feel like it. If you are supposed to be networking, then you find some way to network. If you have the option, then say “Hello”, ask a polite question or two. If the other person isn’t receptive, just smile and move away. There will be plenty of time later. In the meantime, catch up on your reading.
Photo credit: Flickr user Efil’s Good