Authentic Relationships and Networking

A few months ago, I received a card from Deborah Meehan and my friends at the Leadership Learning Community (LLC). It was the second card I’ve received from them since joining their board earlier this year, and there was a long, personal note inside.    (MQV)

When Deborah and the others at LLC do things like send a card, it is a manifestation of an authentic feeling, which is a fancy way of saying that they actually mean it. Deborah is a fantastic networker, but she doesn’t network. She builds real relationships.    (MQW)

Contrast this to an experience I had on Facebook recently. My MO with most Social Network sites is to be pretty liberal about adding people to my network. (There are exceptions to this, which are probably worthy of a separate blog post one of these days.) If you invite me, and I know you, I’ll accept. If I don’t know you, then you’d better have a good reason for bothering me.    (MQX)

A few weeks ago, I got a Facebook “friend” request from a woman I didn’t recognize. We did have one friend in common, someone I knew and trusted. However, she also had over a thousand friends, which was a tip off that I probably didn’t want to deal with her. Nevertheless, I sent her a polite message asking her how we had met. She said that we hadn’t. I then asked why she had “friended” me. She responded that she couldn’t resist the smile in my picture.    (MQY)

That lame response pretty much killed any chance of me ever giving her the time of day. Nevertheless, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to Google her. Turns out this woman is a “professional networker” (tip off number two for me to stay away). Even worse, one of her tips for networking is to always give people a valid reason for connecting to them. Apparently, she didn’t believe in practicing what she preached.    (MQZ)

This, my friends, is why I hate “networkers.” You want to build a better network? Here’s my two-step process. Go someplace where there are people. Have Authentic Conversations. That means, follow your curiosities and passions, and listen.    (MR0)

Lest you feel this experience is indicative of the challenges of building real relationships online, let me end this post with a good Facebook experience. About a month ago, I got a “friend” request from Ken Carroll. I had no idea who he was at the time, but in his initial request, he wrote a nice note explaining that he was the founder of, he was aware of my work, and that he wanted to connect. So I looked at his stuff and thought to myself, “Wow, this guy is doing incredible work. I’d love to learn more.”    (MR1)

I accepted his request, and we exchanged a few messages. That’s all so far. But I guarantee that there will be more to this story, whether it’s next month, next year, or longer. Maybe it will be a random bit of knowledge I cull from his Facebook page. Maybe it will be an introduction to another interesting person. Maybe it will be sharing stories over drinks. Maybe we’ll work together on something. Maybe it will be all of the above. The bottom line is that whatever happens, all it took to start was an authentic gesture.    (MR2)

The Evils of Networking

I’m lucky to know lots of great people. I enjoy that feeling of connectedness, and most of us could probably use more of it. That said, a sure way to make me cringe is to call me a “networker,” or worse still, ask me how to “network.”    (M38)

I hate “networking.” I don’t think anyone should do it.    (M39)

I sometimes enjoy meeting people for the sake of meeting people, as long as they’re interesting and I’m not in the middle of one of my many introverted moments. I love meeting people who are passionate and who make me think. I learn a lot from these folks. Lots of other good stuff sometimes happens from knowing these folks, some of it career-related.    (M3A)

Then there are folks who have no interest in two-way conversations. They just want to be heard, or they’re trying to sell something. I avoid these people like the plague.    (M3B)

These people are networkers. Networking, to me, implies meeting as many people as possible in case they might be useful to you later. I never network.    (M3C)

A more accurate description of this phenomenon is Drive-By Networking. I first heard the term at Matt Homann‘s IdeaMarket last October. It describes people who approach you for the sole purpose of getting your business card so they can annoy you later.    (M3D)

If you’re feeling disconnected, I have three pieces of advice.    (M3E)

First, avoid Drive-By Networking.    (M3F)

Second, approach people because you’re interested in learning, not because some self-help book says you need to know more people in order to succeed.    (M3G)

Third, seek Authentic Conversations. The key to Authentic Conversations is to focus on listening, not on being heard. If you focus on the former, the latter will usually follow. If it doesn’t, then simply move on.    (M3H)