5 Ways to Network Without Feeling Dirty

(Good Badger Note: Today’s guest post is written by Justin Kownacki, the self proclaimed “Armchair Sociologist and Perpetual Contrarian”.  I stumbled upon Justin’s blog during one of my innumerable conquests through the Interweb, and have made his site part of my regular rotation ever since.  If you’re a fan of witty insights and sarcastic humor, I strongly encourage you to check it out. [Since you’re here, I’m guessing you prefer mediocrity?]

In the past I’ve hinted toward my disdain with the concept of “networking”.  Since The Good Badger spends most of his time 4,000 yards under a bunker anticipating the impending apocalypse, I went in search of a more qualified candidate to tackle the topic.  Justin was nice enough to comply.  Without further ado, Justin Kownacki now presents you the “5 Ways to Network Without Feeling Dirty.”)

When The Good Badger asked me to write a guest post about building relationships, he mentioned his aversion to the word “networking.” To him, “networking” has a selfish, impersonal connotation.

And I agree. But that’s probably because the people most likely to use the word “networking” in a sentence are the same people who have a webinar or a time-share scheme that they can’t wait to sell you.

At its core, networking is impersonal. It’s a strategic expansion of the people you know well enough to ask for favors. And if that’s not selfish and impersonal, I don’t know what is.

The real problem is that we have our priorities backwards.

Networking only feels dirty because it’s so overtly results-driven. It makes us doubt our own value, and the value of everyone we meet — mostly because we don’t process the people we meet while networking as people. We process them as opportunities.

And opportunities involve time, resources, costs and returns on our investment. This requires us to see people as risks or revenue streams, rather than as quirks and aberrations.

In essence, networking reduces us to something less than human: it reduces us to numbers.

So how do we break that cycle?

Simple: stop counting.

And in that spirit, here are five tips to help you forget about math and start thinking like a human being again.

1. Find Other People Legitimately Interesting.

Everybody has stories to tell. Give the people you meet an opportunity to dazzle you. Instead of telling them what YOU do, ask them repeatedly about themselves.

By caring, you’ll become memorable. By not selling them on your own amazingness, you’ll become mysterious and desirable by default. (See: dating.)

2. When You Meet Someone New, Expect Nothing.

That way, if anything DOES come of it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

3. Don’t Talk About Business — Especially at a Business Event.

Because when you’re in a roomful of cocktail-carrying suits, everybody’s trolling for the same leads. Don’t be that guy. Instead, be that guy who talks about everything BUT business. By being the lone human in the room, you become the person everybody wants to talk to because they won’t feel pressured to sell themselves, either.

Then, when they do follow-up, they’ll think of you as “Jim, the Raiders fan who barbeques ribs competitively… and who also happens to design websites,” rather than “That website guy I’ll forget to hire.”

4. Speak Your Mind.

People don’t remember you for who you say you are; they remember you for what you say and what you do.

Want to be liked by everyone? Never take a stand.

Want to be loved or hated by people? Take stands, make statements, attack problems and defend yourself against misinformation. Make sure your actions, your persona and your reputation make it impossible for people to confuse you with anybody else.

Because the world is full of milquetoasts and mediocrity, and I keep forgetting to call those people back.

5. Pursue Relationships, Not Leads.

In the email that preceded the writing of this post, The Good Badger took note that I seemed to have built relationships with some of the “heavy hitters” in social media. How I’ve done that might seem like a mystery, especially when everybody else inside our fishbowl is desperate for a piece of them.

So, how’d I do it?

Simple: I’m always looking for interesting conversations.

For example, when I met Amber Naslund, I had no idea who she was. We were both at a conference, each of us chatting with Chris Brogan, whom we both already knew.

As is Chris’s habit, he introduced the two of us, then slipped away to manage the swarm of circling strangers forever in search of favors.

So Amber and I chatted a bit about business while biding our time until someone else more interesting came along. As it happened, we were still outside when Jeff Pulver (who’d organized the conference we were attending) led his band of VIPs out of the building and down the block to a private lunch.

“I know you, you’re VIPs,” he said to the two of us (which was true, since he did know both of us, though neither of us were actually paying VIPs at this event), and he swept us up in his crowd. Amber and I wound up chatting over lunch, discovered that we both have a sharply sardonic sense of humor, and have kept in touch ever since.

Now, had I known who Amber was, or what a retweet from her can do for a person’s blog traffic, I might have conducted myself differently. I might have approached our meeting like a business transaction, and sought ways to appear impressive. And, had I done that, we might never have spoken again because, on the surface, our professional goals at the time were basically unrelated.

The lesson? Sharing a dark sense of humor goes a lot farther than just swapping business cards.

Remembering a person is a lot easier than remembering a title.

And living your life in search of interesting people will provide you with far more opportunities than living your life in search of your next big sale.

  • Hey Justin (and Mr. Badger) –

    Rules to live by, for sure. You and I have a very similar approach to networking (funny, that), and I distinctly remember meeting you in NYC and the fun chat we had before and during lunch.

    What’s fascinating to me about approaching things this way is that you and I will likely be in touch long after either of our blogs matters a lick, long after our careers have changed 18 times. Why? Because the “networking” we did had a very fundamental purpose: to talk to someone whose company we enjoyed.

    What a crazy, innovative idea.

    Cheers, and thanks for the shoutout.


  • zachrd99

    Thanks for the comment Amber.

    I like Justin’s post because he gives 5 tips that seem very “un-networky” (sorry for the technical speak) to me. In business school, they actually teach you how to network (I’m not making this up). The entire situation seemed very plastic to me. I know the tactics they suggest work, and from the school’s point of view, it’s their job to equip us with the best “business tools” possible. But ever since then, networking has had a dirty connotation to me (thus the post’s title).

    I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    Glad to see being a human still works.

  • Great post! In my “real job” I attend networking events literally 2-3 times each week, and I couldn’t agree more — I’ve started to despise going to these things after only 3 months of it because everyone is just looking for a favor. However, by being “human” (and i think a human is very rare in The Valley) I’ve met a few other “humans.” Since we’ve met, II’ve found that we just hang out at the bar, go to the beach, be social, etc….and ya know what?–when needed, we actually use each other for business! So don’t look for a favor, look for a person.