LB's Corner
Why Networking is Dead
Lauren BaileyPosted on

It may seem funny to hear the founder of a community say networking is dead, but if you’ve ever participated in a #GirlsClub cohort, I think you’ll agree that it feels totally different than traditional networking.  

Even Forbes jumped on this one, saying in a recent article

The new age of professional networking is less about seeking out connections at events and on LinkedIn, where building connections can fall flat without structure, planning, and purpose.”

Forbes tells us that traditional networking is missing the right “process” – the formality of an architecture.  I agree!  We need structure in order to get opportunities.  In fact, in the last year we added more in-person meeting time with the sole purpose of networking (but we didn’t call it that, more on that in a moment.) But I think Forbes is missing a big component:  intent. 

The networking we all hate is “pitch fests.” Is there anything worse than getting the card of 3 solopreneurs in a row?  “Call me to review your insurance situation, your current home price, your used car.” Barf!!  Meanwhile, you’re 90% certain they don’t remember your name, and they haven’t taken a moment to learn one damn thing about you.  Intent = sell me.

I move to replace the outdated term “Networking,” with “Connecting.” 

Let’s use this new term to mean meeting new people with the intent of authentic connection and helping each other. THIS is what differentiates #GirlsClub. Authentic connections happen when we share something of ourselves and feel seen by another. It helps us feel like we belong and we are valued. That’s something I’ll come back for!  Not sure how?  Start here:

Find commonality.

We trust people and like people we perceive as similar to us. This is called the “Similarity Attraction Effect” and it’s been validated and published by HBR, Psychological Science and more since 1956. We’ve all heard that people buy from people they like right? That’s the similarity attraction effect, and it is even more true with networking. It also leads to unconscious bias and discrimination, but that’s a different blog.

Be clear, similarities need not be appearance-based. We connect on shared backgrounds, roles, cities, hobbies, schools, and more. It’s where most rapport-building winds up right after the weather.

We connect more deeply, however, when what we share is more meaningful to us or emotion is attached. Think how you have bonded over a shared negative experience like being undervalued at work or having a similar fear. Because we talk about these topics and share more authentically and vulnerably in #GirlsClub cohorts, we build faster and deeper connections. 

So how do you do this “in the wild?” Share first!  

Give people something to connect with by talking about a like or dislike (that’s right, share an opinion with a stranger! Maybe just steer clear of politics?)  “Great event, but frankly that last speaker blew my socks off.” Or try to +1 a comment you heard. “At the kickoff Bob said he felt comfortable with the group, and I have to say it’s like going to my own reunion!”  Or share a short story of how you experienced something you have in common.  “I’ve been coming to these for about a year now, and I have got to tell you about my second meeting.  It was … “ 

Self-deprecating works wonders as well.  In fact, sharing a mistake or a blunder is proven to help people like you more (It’s called the Pratfall Effect and was published by the University of Texas.) If you’re at a dinner and spilled half of it down your front, you’ve got a great lead-in ready-made, not something to hide!  Were you so nervous walking in that you tripped? Share the laugh and open the window for the other person to share their nerves in exchange. It doesn’t mean you can’t also build some credibility, but being awesome and then being human is a magic recipe for connection.

Step two is to always help first.

In fact, be pushy about it. I recently got off a 45-min networking call. Meredith and I met at an association conference and decided we might possibly be best friends. Ever have an instant like with someone? I went on a limb and told her, and we set up a follow-up call to get to know each other. Here’s how it went down:

Meredith: “Hey Lauren, glad to see you at this event!”

LB: “Meredith, I know we have Shari in common, but weren’t we also both part of WSP?”

Meredith:  “Yes! How did we not meet there?”

LB: “Seriously!? I’m loving this event by the way. Really cool people so far. And real people, relatively poser free! And some powerhouse women! I love that!”

Meredith: “OMG I love you for saying that.”

LB: “I think we need to be friends.”

Meredith: “YES!  I have to go to this board meeting now, but let’s set up a follow-up.”

LB: “I own that. Done.”

It took us two months and a few reschedules, but we made it happen – because we felt a connection and knew a real connection is worth it! In 45 minutes, we found three ways to help each other. That’s when I knew I’d get on a plane to spend time with Meredith.

She shared a new business channel she’s thinking of opening, and I shared a few tips from my experience there.  I shared a new #GirlsClub arm I’m opening (it’s true! Coming soon!), and she shared her opinion on the price point.  We both shared what we’re bored with and what excites us and gave ourselves permission to work less. She’s sending her new offering, I’m sending my pitch deck and we’re talking again next month.  

But here’s the logistics of how it went down: Each of us asking the other what they’re up to and how we can help.  She got to it first, so I shared. I kept it to 5 minutes, asked her one question and thanked her for the help. Then I jumped right in and asked a specific question about the new thing she mentioned. I asked permission to give some advice and then did. She thanked me and jumped right back into the thing I mentioned I wanted to do more of (speaking) and said she’d be happy to share her system! Great! Send me your offering, and I’ll give you input on what training people actually does and doesn’t do…

It was a perfect tennis match, if the match’s goal is to help the other person lob the ball beautifully over the net and then to win. And when two smart and powerful people do that well, the results are exponential.

Feels really different than getting some sweaty guy’s card to buy a car, right?  Try it with someone you admire this week!