We can only point them to the path.
They have to walk it themselves.

I was speaking to a friend of mine a few months ago about networking. We were talking about an event he had attended recently. He had walked out feeling frustrated because, as he put it, “no one knows how to network right.” He’d had people shove their cards in his face, interrupt his conversation in order to tell him about their business, and one guy even made fun of my friend’s business name.

So, what’s a good networker to do?

We talked about it and came up with a few ideas.

  • Ignore them and refuse to deal with them. We should probably limit this only to those who are being actively offensive. Most folks aren’t trying to insult anyone, they just haven’t thought through how others might interpret their behaviors. Some people, though, are just jerks. If this is the case, we probably aren’t going to be able to establish any sort of productive relationship with them.
  • Interrupt their pattern. When the other person tries to overstep the bounds of a new relationship — by asking for a referral or trying to make a sale — we can redirect their focus by stepping out of their script. Ask them about other groups they belong to or what they like to do on the weekend. We could even ask about their business, but only in the context of their personal experience (how long they’ve been doing it, what got them into it, etc).
  • Offer to help. If they are seriously trying to sell, we can tell them that, while we aren’t interested at this time, we would like to find out more. Perhaps they’d be interested in getting together for coffee so we can see if there are any opportunities where we can help each other.
  • Ask about their target market. I love asking this question. I usually do have to explain that I’m curious about who they would prefer to serve, since most folks say they can help anybody. I might even ask them “If I’m chatting with someone, what might they say that would tell me I should send them to you?” This definitely forces people to stop and think. They also occasionally turn the question back on me — information I am glad to provide.
  • Tell them they are networking wrong. This is a path I definitely don’t recommend. Doing this is about as likely to improve their networking practice as the act of telling them that they are being rude will do anything to improve their manners. In this case, the only thing we can do is set the good example.
The more networking we do, the more bad networking we will witness. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s just the way it is. Always remember that, for the most part, the folks who practice limited networker techniques are not actually trying to offend. They are networking in the best way that they know how. It’s up to us to help them see that there’s a better way to go. Who knows? With enough of us spreading the good word through our actions, the Deck Dealers and the Strong-Arm Salespeople might become endangered species.

Photo credit: Brian Stansberry