Why I Don’t Network (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)

Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from?

These questions are staples of the job networking circuit — and why I hate the practice. In fact, I don’t believe in the concept at all. Rather than bringing together like-minded professionals, networking is actually an insincere — and ineffective strategy — for making a connection with another human being.

Ambitious careerists often define networking as collecting business cards and making “contacts.” But this reduces others to the company and/or people they are aligned with or work for.

Purposeful relationship building is less about collecting cards and more about making a meaningful connection. And, as you know, relationships are key, no matter what your business.

This all hit home at a recent party I attended party where those three pointed questions mentioned above were hurled at me in a quick-paced, inquisitive tone. The tone was inadvertently funny.

Though had the questions been serious, and asked in a business setting, I would have immediately been insulted. The reality is, most people who are out to network are actually trying to answer those three questions. They are trying to figure out if you’re worth 10–20 minutes of conversation to expand their business or social status.

And that’s precisely the problem. Networking tells us we need to get to know everyone who is anyone. Once we’ve cornered the right person, it tells us to foster a professional relationship.

Toss that out the window. Don’t search for professional relationships at all. Look for people you can have a meaningful conversation with. Find a connection. Don’t focus on more than two people in the room with whom you’d like to connect with. It’s better to leave a room having made one solid friend than 20 cards you’ll never have a real relationship with — and probably never do business with, anyway.

The first question I ask myself when I meet someone new is, “Do I like this person enough to have him or her as my friend?” Now, just a simple clarification, my ideas about friendship don’t fit into the Facebook “friendship” age. What I mean when I call someone a friend is, can I trust this person with real issues in my life, do they care about the same things that I care about, can I have hours of great conversation

Princeton University psychologists Alex Torodov and Janine Willis recently released a study explaining how quickly we make snap judgments about one another. It takes a microsecond to judge authenticity “attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness.” In the absence of real quantitative data, we look for verifiable cues to tell us more about another person. These cues come in the way of facial expressions. We are unconsciously interpreting signs and inferring meaning from a simple glance. So, a first impression should never be made with a business card held out to “network.”

As every single relationship begins with a very first interaction, the way you meet people is critical to the success of a relationship. If you start with the intention of building friendships with everyone you meet, you will no longer be networking. You will be building community. The reality is, not everyone will become your best friend or part of your community, but that’s irrelevant. You will shift your mindset and attempt to find meaningful interactions that go beyond career-focused agenda.

As a part of my anti-networking stance, I don’t intentionally make a list and constructively set out to meet people. My theory is, if you go to the right places, you will automatically meet the right people. I am extremely particular about the organizations I align myself with. I am pretty confident that if I were to attend a gathering at the UN, I would meet exactly the right people. In essence it’s about putting yourself in the right place and then looking for community when you get there.

Entrepreneur, mother and founder of Lipstick & Politics.

Entrepreneur, mother and founder of Lipstick & Politics.