is networking a dirty word

If you want engagement—online or in person, you have to be vulnerable, and you have to be vulnerable first.

is networking in business a dirty word

One of my first experiences networking as a business owner was horrendous. A woman set her sights on me as a threat to her for some reason still unknown to me, and made it her goal to attack me, my business, and the people associated with me. She left nasty, false reviews, sent mean messages, made false claims against my then husband at his workplace, and spread rumors, while acting sticky-sweet to me at any social gathering. She put a bad taste for networking in my mouth that only grew more sour with time.

When I think about networking the first word that pops into my head is, “uncomfortable.” It feels so damn awkward.

I asked our Facebook group to weigh in and heard similar thoughts.

It feels dirty and not genuine.

It can be exhausting.

Panic.

Networking = pressure. Also stress.

Large mixer? I’m out.

It’s hard to feel authentic.

I can’t think of a single traditional networking event I’ve attended where I left not feeling like a total flop. My typical experience looks a lot like me desperately clinging to my $8 glass of wine from the cash bar, laughing at stupid jokes, and pretending like I’ve set foot on a golf course before, while a bunch of folks disguise their gossip and small talk as networking. Please note: for me small talk is actually the worst thing in the world.

After some well-needed time to heal my jaded heart, some incredible experiences, and the help from my TED Talks app, I’m ready to flip the idea that networking is just a necessary evil on its head.

Lets get vulnerable

It turns out, networking—when it’s done right—can be an incredible gift for you and your business’s well-being.

In Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk, Connected, but alone?, she explores why we use technology the way we do. Humans, of all ages and walks of life, avoid in-person conversations for many reasons—because we like to feel in control of our time (a text message is much faster), we are uncomfortable with speaking in real-time without having time to process what we’ll say (we’ve all typed and deleted the same text message 37 times before we hit send, right?), and we are absolutely terrified of intimacy.

We seek comfort in technology—Insta stories, Facebook likes, LinkedIn connections, Tinder matches, Twitter followers—because it fulfills one of our basic human needs: connection. We are lonely and searching and end up spending our time with machines out of a paralyzing fear of being vulnerable and building real-life connections, but those connections are what we desperately crave.

We feel pressured, panicked, uncomfortable, dirty, and not genuine because we are scared.

I attended The Alison Show’s Build and Awesome Brand workshop in November and the timing was about as awful as it could ever be. I signed my divorce papers the morning we hit the road. I’d spent only a week in my new apartment attempting to pick up the pieces from the turmoil in the months before. I did not want to go rub elbows with entrepreneurs and pretend that I wasn’t in the middle of a big, freaking crisis.

But I did and I learned so much, and chatted with some incredible people. I came home feeling relieved that I made it through and posted my thoughts on how tough a day it was for me, and the comments came rolling in. Many of these women who I connected with in-person opened their hearts to me, thanked me, sent support, and gave me permission to be a hot-freaking-mess and a thriving entrepreneur at the same time.

Physically gathering around our similarities, in this case entrepreneurship, and letting things get a little awkward created a space where these women could (and did) make an impact on my life, and I could do the same for theirs.

That is what networking is about.

Give and take

In Adam Grant’s Are you a giver or taker? he breaks down company culture into two major categories: givers, those who place priority on giving support to those around them, and takers, those who focus on taking information and resources to improve their own lives. In the end, the givers within businesses are the folks who breathe positivity and energy in, cultivate growth, and allow employees and leaders to thrive. Read: You want the givers, not the takers.

If we take this philosophy and look at those awkward networking events, now knowing that we all walk into them feeling uncomfortable because we are afraid of making the connections we went to make, the game changes. What if networking wasn’t about taking—gathering business cards, finding partnerships, collecting resources to grow our own businesses—but instead, was about giving?

What if we walked into a room of people with the intent to give whatever we could to those who need support. A resource for tackling a problem (uh, Basecamp…), a lead on a client, maybe just someone who understands, or permission to be human. It’s there, in the space where we get real, that the real work starts and the real results show up.

One of the nuggets of wisdom I picked up at Alison’s workshop that I mentioned earlier is this:

If you want engagement—online or in person, you have to be vulnerable, and you have to be vulnerable first.

She says, “Offer yourself up as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of vulnerability.”

(Also, in case you haven’t figured it out, Alison is hilarious. And totally awesome.)

In the end, networking will always be uncomfortable for most. However, it’s here—in the uncomfortable moments, where we find our people—that growth happens for us and our businesses.

Next time you find yourself lingering in the corner, stumbling over your words, unsure of what the heck you are doing, remember two things:

  • First, your people are out there. They will support you, bring you tears, fill your heart, bring opportunity to your business, change your world. But you will never, ever find them if you don’t first let yourself get vulnerable.
  • Second, it’s not always about you. It’s about doing the next right thing, offering support, and giving all that you have—with the faith that your people will one day do the same for you.

Worst case scenario, we are here to talk it out and laugh it off with you and our forever friends wine + gummy bears. Get out there, sister. 


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