2015-10-08 10.11.36Today, as a part of a preschool field trip to the apple orchard, Abby and I found ourselves navigating a maze built of hay bales. Abby was really getting into it, scampering down the passages and laughing at each dead end — right up until the moment she and one of her classmates rounded a corner going in opposite directions and “klunk!”, bumped heads.

Abby has decided that she doesn’t care for hay bale mazes any longer.

Believe it or not, I see this happen at networking events all the time. No, not actually two people bumping heads, but rather interacting, each with a different intent and each walking away dissatisfied with the process — and sometimes deciding that they really don’t care for this networking thing.

The reason, of course, is they are working at cross purposes. Each is trying to accomplish something with his networking that is preventing the other from achieving her networking goals. Underneath is really a difference in understanding what networking is supposed to be. Some have chosen a less than productive path. That leads to the question: How do we know we have chosen a good path? How do we know that our understanding of networking is the one that will work the best?

Whatever path you’ve chosen, to measure its effectiveness, apply this simple test: What would happen if everyone networked like that?

In the networking programs I deliver to businesses and associations, I talk about the three definitions of networking. Let’s apply the test to these three definitions.

Definition #1: Networking is sales. What would happen if everyone at the networking event was gunning for a client? Imagine each walking in, sizing up the room, preparing their probing questions to put the hard sell on anyone who seemed even remotely like a prospect. They would pay attention to every newcomer who walked in because the poor slob wouldn’t have heard their sales pitch yet. Of course, they’d have to move quickly, since any newbie to this madhouse would probably run screaming into the night.

I’m thinking that if everyone networked as if networking were sales, we would see a rapid extinction of the networking event.

Definition #2: Networking is marketing. Can you imagine what the networking experience would be like if everyone was trying to deliver their elevator pitch/value proposition/unique features and benefits to everyone around them. “No, let me tell you about me!” No one would be listening because everyone would be bragging. The only time anyone would stop talking about themselves would be to see if the other person had gotten it all right and was ready to tell the story to everyone that they knew.

This event would be better than the room full of hard-core sales people, but not by much.

Definition #3: Networking is about cultivating relationships. What if everyone at the next business gathering recognized the value of having more and stronger connections within the community. What if they understood that the more people they help, the more people will help them? What if everyone was seeking allies and using the idea of finding ways to be of service to each other? What would that be like?

Why, that would be pretty nice — and I bet pretty successful, too…

… and I doubt anyone would knock heads with the person next to them going in the other direction.