Why We’re Bad At Networking #4: Narrow Focus, Narrow Interest

So I’ve been asking – why are we so bad at networking sometime? So far I’ve covered the fact that we’re tired of hearing about it, incoherent issues on the basics, and too much confusing new stuff.

I mean let’s face it, it’s rammed down our throats, the basics are treated incoherently, and every week there’s Some New Networking Thing.

All of this crazy creates problems that are further amplified because we’re actually taught a very, very narrow view of networking.

Networking is for jobs. That’s what we hear about. That’s what we’re told. Spend all that time getting ready to network. Get that site together. Remove the embarrassing picture of you dressed as Jack Sparrow from Facebook. This is all about your job.

This kills it. This kills the fun. This kills the enthusiasm. This kills the humanity. I’ve covered this before, so let me put it succinctly.

The idea that networking should primarily be about your job is pure grade-A bulls**t.

Yes, some of us do network professionally a lot – because we’re professionals and that is a big part of who we are. It’s what we do. It’s our hobby. Our lifestyle. In a few cases, probably a disturbing fetish that needs to be addressed with therapy. But it’s what we do for some of us – if we’re recruiters, or startup gurus, or career coaches.

It’s not the same for most other people.

Networking is all about connecting. That’s what it is first and foremost, and that’s what gets promptly killed when you tell people to focus on their careers all the time in the realm of networking – which is basically socializing. People aren’t happy when they’re at work half the time, and really don’t want to drag it further into human contact.

So, the constant emphasis on business networking kills the fun of being social – which is what networking should be about.

Networking should not be a grind. We just make it such.

Of course we make it such – Networking is seen as The Key To Job Success, so there’s books, tapes, videos, gurus, and more spewing about it constantly. There’s money to be made here. So we’re drowned in Networking advice that just ends up destroying our ability to connect.

So of course we’re bad at it – we don’t want to do it, and half-ass it when we do.

The results are pretty obvious – and pretty visible:

Lack Of Enthusiasm: People don’t want to network when it’s been forced on them by guilt and gurus, and they loose their energy for connecting, and for connecting about career and work issues.

Lack Of Effort: When you’ve told people go to career connecting all the time and there not the few percent really into that, they won’t do it. In fact they’ll probably rebel against it because they have enough to do.

Lack Of Understanding: This business-oriented approach to Networking distorts our knowledge and understanding of how to connect to people – and how connections work. Good Networking is, as noted, about connecting with people. Careers come later.

Lack Of Connection: Finally when we feel networking is All Business All The Time we don’t form real connections with people.

Lack Of The Big Picture: People miss the important role of socializing in success and life when networking is so dominant in discussions about socializing.

Now again, for some people, business-like networking is fun for them and part of what they do. If it is for you, great. If not, well don’t feel guilty you’re sick of hearing about this.

We need to reclaim networking for what it is – an enthusiasm for connecting to people. Here’s my advice:

  • Be pro-active. A simple calendar that reminds you of birthdays, alerts to check in on people, etc. does wonders. Automate the parts of connecting with people and go beyond the business side – it makes it easier and removes worry. Also it reminds you to follow up on non-business things.
  • Just connect. Now if you’re like me, yeah, careerism is part of your connecting. But if you’re not like me, which is likely, then just connect with people. Meet someone interesting, say hi. Follow up on that business card you found. Go to events. Network by getting out.
  • If you want to connect, do. If you feel you really do need to get out more and connect with people, get involved. Do charity. Go to a meet up. Go to an art fair. Just go out and keep meeting people.
  • You might be doing it anyway. Sure you may not fit someone else’s profile of the Great Networker, but if your life is good and you have the people you want and your job is fine . . . why worry about what the latest book said?
  • Do have your materials. Personal cards, websites, Facebook, etc. are good for connecting with people. Use those things business networking forced you to do in order to really connect with people for real.
  • Share!  Introduce people to each other.  Enjoy the thrill of people connecting.

Networking should be about connecting first, business second, unless that’s your intent or enthusiasm. We need to reclaim networking from the business gurus and warmed-over advice and get out there and just meet people.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.