One of the challenges of talking about networking is the general lack of a unified definition. If one person is thinking networking is about sales and the other thinks it is about service, they might find themselves working at cross purposes. I’ve listed some of the definitions I’ve found below. You don’t necessarily have to pick one of them, but you should be aware that others might have a different view from you.

Networking is…

  1. …sales. These folks believe that their whole goal in networking is to walk away with a signed contract. While this is a perfectly reasonable definition, I think it’s somewhat limiting as it ignores the possibilities of personal as well as professional support. It also tends to focus on targeting the person with whom you are talking as a prospect as opposed to a potential ambassador.
  2. …making friends. Actually this isn’t a bad one. Some folks might take issue with it because it feels too “touchy-feely” and doesn’t have enough focus on business.
  3. …the process of developing mutually beneficial long-term give and take relationships. I think this one hits the mark pretty well. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a mouthful. I wish I could find a way to boil this down into more of a succinct definition.
  4. …marketing. Folks who follow this definition see the networking process as a means to spread the word about their product or service. That’s fine, but I think it only looks at half of the equation. Good networking also means spreading the word about other people.
  5. …the act of taking advantage of other people without them knowing about it. Honestly and truly I heard someone use this as their definition of networking. All I can say is to steer clear of these folks. They are poison.
  6. …being on stage. I once had someone tell me that they were a “natural networker” because they always like to be the center of attention. I think they share a common blindspot with the folks who think it’s all about marketing. They’re missing the part where they take an interest in the other person.
  7. …slimy. These poor souls probably “networked” at some point with the folks who take advantage of others. As a result, they may have developed a bit of a bad taste about networking.
  8. …working the room. I’ve never particularly liked that phrase. As with “schmoozing”, it kind of hearkens back to the old style of networking where the whole goal was to pass out as many business cards as possible. The danger in it is that it focuses only on the short term and ignores the long-term commitment necessary to develop truly profitable trust-based relationships.
  9. …service. These folks I can work with. Their focus is on how they can serve a particular group, both in what they sell, but also in any other value they can provide. In his audio program “Networking with Millionaires“, Thomas J. Stanley talks a lot about this particular view.
Whatever your definition of networking, be aware that not everyone shares it. Their underlying definitions will dictate what behaviors are acceptable. Just understand that they are working from their sets of rules and don’t mean to offend you. Of course, stick with your own beliefs about the best way to do things and maybe your success will be the best argument for bringing them around to your way of thinking.
Photo credit: Jason Antony