As we grow up into adulthood, we learn that we are surrounded by invisible forces. For example, the force of gravity – where would we be without it … literally? The force of magnetism … how would MRI machines work without it? The force of nature … it surrounds us with its glory and impressive strength, in every corner of the planet. The force of friction … it produces kilowatts of energy for our society. And how could we forget the galactic force of good … “may the force be with you”!
However, as many of us chose to enter into the business world, no one directly taught us how to network effectively. No one taught us about a volatile force of networking, the force of repulsion, that could take us to the brink of word of mouth disaster. The good thing is, unlike many of our natural forces, you actually can control this powerful force of networking.
The first step is becoming aware of it. The second step is adapting your behavior for the outcome you desire.
The Force of Repulsion
This force of networking will most likely bring you misery. It will repel people from you immediately. It’s like an invisible barrier between you and the other person (kind of like the invisible wall between Indiana Jones and the cobra, if you saw the movie). Many times, we are left clueless as to why people walk away from us, never return our calls, or avoid eye contact with us at the table. The force of repulsion will often cause you to feel like you’ve wasted your time or leave you holding up the bar alone.
Let’s take a look at three common behaviors often seen at networking events that initiate the force of repulsion:
- Passing out a business card to anyone and everyone in the room, like some super-hero able to leap tables in a single bound. What makes you think that everyone in the room actually wants your card? People who don’t want your card will feel like you’re directly selling to them and that will put up the invisible wall faster than a speeding bullet! What’s your reaction to a cold call during your favorite TV show? If you’re like me, you hang up before the person speaks or maybe you don’t even pick up the phone. The force of repulsion is in high gear! Believe it or not, when you force your card onto anyone with a face, you might as well be cold calling … but doing it in person.
- Looking past the person you’re speaking to in order to see who else is in the room. The message is clear … this person is not interesting and you’d rather be talking to someone else at that moment. This person can read your body language very easily and who would want to hang around with someone who has better things to do or would rather be with someone else? I can think of a few marriages that ended that way! Networking is supposed to be about developing relationships. You’re meeting people and trying to decide if they are people you want to get to know. It reminds me of dating. If you were on a first date and the other person kept looking around to see who was more interesting, I’ll bet you wouldn’t go out of your way for a second date. Why would someone in a networking event go out of their way to re-connect with you if you make them feel like a stone pillar standing between you and where you really want to be?
- Talking all about YOU! There’s a country song out there by Toby Keith that addresses this very thing in a dating situation. Have you ever been with someone who talks, talks, talks all about them? Sometimes, they don’t even take a breath. I call this “verbal throw-up” … now you have an image to lock in your brain. The next time you feel yourself about to upchuck at a networking event, take a breath and ask some open ended questions. Allow the other person to speak twice as long as you. Demonstrate that you care about what they have to say. Ask them questions that will help you determine if they would be a good person to add to your network. After all, networking is all about them … not you!
Most of us want people to like us. We want people to talk to us at networking events. Contrary to what you may have heard, networking is not a direct selling activity. It’s not about closing deals and landing your biggest client. Networking is about developing relationships from the ground up. Relationships are between people. People typically don’t like to be sold to, don’t like to over-looked and certainly don’t like to become victims of verbal throw-up.
From this point on, you can consider yourself informed, educated and aware of one invisible force of networking. If you are guilty of any of these actions, consider modifying your behaviors accordingly. If you’re not sure, ask your best friend to observe you the next time your networking … hopefully they can give you an honest assessment.