F@*k ‘Networking’. Just Be a Human.

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Last week, we talked about humanizing the subject line, but what about being human when it matters most? In person.

Stop me when this sounds familiar. It’s early morning. There are stale bagels, cheap coffee, and a mix of knock-off stilettos. There’s a table with name tags, fat sharpies, and people bumbling about who looks a hair too much like Dwight Schrute. Everyone is shaking hands, saying their nice-to-meet-you’s, and being totally and utterly forgettable.

Congratulations! You have just entered the land of networking hell—the most overrated and ineffective pastime in professional growth.

What to do?

Screw the schmoozing and opt for a totally revolutionary route: just be human.

How so? Here’s your networking palette cleanser in 3 easy steps.

1. Don’t be one of those people

You know who I’m talking about. The people who “work the room”. The people who hand out business cards like they are condoms in a high school sex ed. class, surprised to find their cards suffer the same regrettable fate. Hello, trash bin! Disclaimer – keep those condoms, kids!

Newsflash: People don’t want a poorly designed piece of cardstock with your name on it. They want what we all want. What you want. They want to have a conversation and not a sales pitch. They want meaningful relationships. They want to build connections that matter.

Personally, I don’t bring any cards to events. Instead I meet people. I talk to them. I mean I really talk to them beyond the, “Hi. What do you do? Well, great to meet you. Here’s a card.”

We have a meaningful moment and then I follow up later with a meaningful email. Something specific and thoughtful rather than something stock. Because, you know, they’re a person. And people respond to kindness.

2. Stop counting

Somewhere along the way, we became a numbers society. How many Facebook friends do you have? How many followers? Subscribers? We began to associate quantity with value, assuming the more the merrier. But like the girl who wears a padded bra, there’s some serious misleading going on there. Don’t believe me? Take a cue from YouTube. This isn’t a numbers game.

For the majority of its existence, YouTube judged the success of a video by the number of views it had. This seemed logical enough. But when the 30-minute film “Kony 2012” came out, annihilating all prior viewership records, the execs at the social media haven realized they’d been doing it wrong. A million people could click on a video, watch 2 seconds, and move on. Those views were useless. The more valuable barometer was how long people actually watched. So in late 2012, YouTube added “watch time” to their analytics, rewarding videos that kept viewers engaged.

The same philosophy goes for networking. If you’re going for true engagement, it’s not about how many people you hand your card to; it’s about how many people you truly interact with. One good conversation is better than five quick ones every day of the week.

3. Set technology aside

Pretty much everything these days can be taken care of with the press of a fancy button. We’ve been overwhelmed by the brilliance and ease of convenience apps. We’ve been geared up to full steam with awesome productivity ones, too. And while those are all well and good, there is simply no replacement for the human element, for you looking me in the eye and really hearing me out.

This is especially important for those of us that work in tech. We’re all extremely attached to our phones. We can’t just sit on the bus anymore. People are faking calls to make themselves look busy and important when they’re waiting for their friends to show up. We go out for dinner with people and we’re more interested in email and text messages. While it’s important to be connected, it’s even more important to be present when you’re interacting with others.

Networking is for losers. It’s for people who will never be more than middlemen. If you want to grow your career, you have to invest in it. And the best way you can do that is by investing in other people. So set your cards aside and say hello. It’s amazing what happens when you remember to be human.

I’m looking at you! Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit Alejandro Escamilla 

Heather Anne Carson - December 16th, 2013 / 19 Comments

19 Responses to “F@*k ‘Networking’. Just Be a Human.”

  1. Absolutely agree! I’m pretty new to the networking world, but having attended my first few events, I’ve found it’s extremely difficult to initiate conversations when people are regularly staring at their phones, and that I, in turn, do the same to avoid looking like the lost one. As a Social Media Editor, I do have responsibilities that require me to be on Twitter and Facebook at certain events, but it’s a great reminder to put the phone aside during the networking portion of these events, and really start talking to people.

  2. martin h says:

    Loved the article. As someone starting up his business by selling a service this is of the utmost importance – relationship building. At the same time though, I need a lot of people to come through the pipeline to make a living and unfortunately I need to have a large volume. Ideally, I would like to interact with fewer people but have a better quality relationship/interaction. But those people I meet aren’t always the wealthiest…yet. I guess that’s the toughest part, looking genuine to others even though there’s an element of “It’s business too”

  3. Heather Anne Carson says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply Martin. I understand it’s difficult when you need a wider funnel but I would encourage you to remember to try to only primarily market or promote yourself where your potential customers are. Then, most of this still applies to you. :)

  4. Heather Anne Carson says:

    @Britany – Isn’t it amazing how much fun you can have without your phone in hand? I am practicing this actively now, too. A friend once explained it to me this way: “if you’re got your phone out when we’re talking, it says to me that there’s something else you’d rather be doing.” Usually that isn’t the case – we’re just trying to do too many things at once, or using our phone as an awkward social crutch. I really took his comment to heart, and I’m much more mindful now.

  5. Vikas says:

    Heather, its true that if one pulls out their phone during a conversation, they’d rather be doing something else. But in a networking event, its also a valid escape from the monotonous conversations one tends to encounter! A crutch yes, but a much needed one?

  6. Heather Anne Carson says:

    Here’s my thinking: If the event sucks, maybe it’s time to bail?
    I’ve had some of my best biz dev conversations at the bar or restaurant next door to sanctioned networking events. Grab someone you really want to talk, who looks equally bored, and offer to buy them a drink. Sneaky!

  7. thomacendo says:

    >It’s amazing what happens when you remember to be human

    Unfortunately I was not supplied with an instruction manual

  8. “They want meaningful relationships. They want to build connections that matter.”

    Thanks for inadvertently working our pitch into this very helpful article. I find networking exhausting. The conversations I care about are those where it’s not about getting something from each other, but about feeling like I’ve connected to someone.

  9. bigodera says:

    I have realized that in the tech world, most of the “rockstars” – people that have done something meaningful for the community and/or know how to do their self-branding – are unreachable for us, common folks. They won’t answer to your email, tweet or anything else(unless you’re a rockstar too).

    I guess being human helps you out in everything you do.

  10. Heather Anne Carson says:

    +1! 100% Thanks Adam. Connecting is what it’s all about.

    (…and nice subtle plug, btw…;) )

  11. Heather Anne Carson says:

    @bigodera – I agree and disagree. The ‘so called’ rockstars are hard to reach, but definitely not unattainable. I think what causes them to ignore a lot of correspondence is that usually people are always asking for something. (Their time, advice, etc.) I suspect it gets old.

    Try a different approach. Offer to do something that benefits them first to grab their attention. When was the last time someone offered to do something for you without an ulterior motive? A few starter tips: try mentioning one of their philosophies in a blog post, share a meaningful comment with them on something they’ve published, or offer to help them with a project they’re working on.

  12. Vikas says:

    Also, this is the first time I’ve seen a woman call a padded bra “misleading” :)

  13. Nice article. It is amazing how much a simple genuine gesture is so much more valuable than hundreds of not so authentic interactions.

  14. Heather Anne Carson says:

    @Vikas – Ha! Just trying to keep it light. ;) I figured best to poke fun at my fellow ladies than a make any other kind of size jokes. ;)

  15. Heather Anne Carson says:

    Thanks Abhay! Glad you like it!

  16. Karen Phillips says:

    It’s a shame that so many people in sales related jobs tend to be raw numbers guys. Maybe its just the culture that dictates that because they’re judged and rewarded based on numbers so that trickles down to all aspects of the product. I think though, that everybody uses raw numbers to some extent. People judge which YouTube videos to judge based on view counts. People judge which Facebook pages to check out based on like counts (see http://www.buylikesreviews.com to see how many companies are engaged in this) rather than based on the quality of the content.

    When it’s such a busy society, people use a simple raw number comparison to decide what to check out. There probably is and should be a better way, but I don’t think anybody (including Google) has developed that yet.

    It’s a shame that the Saturn brand of cars was phased out a bunch of years back because I liked how their sales guys were no pressure, and not judged based purely on numbers. Some personality types like dealing with people on a human level first and foremost, and I think a lot of startups and companies would do well to reflect that in their culture and seek those users out.

  17. Ivan says:

    +1 :)

    I’ve discovered that ‘networking’ thing only works for cases I love talking to anyway. Risky business of bailing out of conversations I don’t like, breaking usual barriers makes a good spice :)

  18. “Networking is for losers. It’s for people who will never be more than middlemen. If you want to grow your career, you have to invest in it. And the best way you can do that is by investing in other people. So set your cards aside and say hello. It’s amazing what happens when you remember to be human.”

    Awesome statement. I’ve always found folks treat networking like dieting – a short-term strategy they stop when they get what they want. You have to stop dieting and start a different lifestyle! Btw – I’m founder of Real Human Being Nation – a community for people trying to be human. Someone forwarded me your blog!

  19. Heather Anne Carson says:

    @Dave – Preach! (And thanks for the kind words… :) )

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