I have attended many networking events over the years, but one stands out in my mind: a skin-crawling presentation–ironically on effective networking–during which the presenter quoted statistics on how many contacts it takes to be remembered by someone you’ve just met (5).  For two of the contact points, he suggested (1) taking a selfie with new acquaintances and then (2) texting it to the new contact the following day with a thank-you note.  To my horror, he asked me to help him demonstrate his technique for the audience. When he requested the selfie, it felt contrived and, frankly, icky—a violation of my privacy to satisfy his own agenda. I deleted the photo he sent me the next day (imagine the look of dismay on my face he had captured on-screen), and threw his card in the shredder. Unfortunately, the damage was done. He had already put me on his email marketing list without asking my permission. Unwanted messages began to fill my inbox within hours of meeting him.

He did satisfy his agenda, however. I’ll never forget him, or the way he made me feel.

Authentic networking is a mutually satisfying experience that happens when:

-your career choice is in alignment with your core values and is a source of excitement, learning and continual growth for you.  If it doesn’t light you up, it’s not going to be compelling to anyone else.  If it does, people will go out of their way to help you, and surprise you with their generosity.

-you engage openly and honestly about what kind of work you love to do (and are therefore expert in) WITHOUT expecting them to solve your unemployment/underemployment/sales goal problems directly.  This is harder than it sounds.  Desperation and powerlessness have a way of showing themselves despite the expensive suits you dress them in.  If you’re not clear about the work you’re meant to do, networking will be as pleasant as getting a root canal from a gang member with a grudge.

-you are genuinely interested in, and have creative ways of helping the other person.  Even if your helpfulness is not directly related to their career–is there some other wisdom, insight or knowledge you can share with them?  No one will forget, as Maya Angelou says, how you made them feel.  If they sense that your interest in them is purely for your own gain, you will gain nothing but a trail of resentful contacts who will want to avoid you like they’d avoid a…(wait for it) gang member with a grudge.

There is no shortcut to authenticity. It’s impossible to completely disguise the emotional energy of fear and desperation. It always finds a way to leak out—in your facial expressions, vocal tone and body language. The physical stress response to your emotional distress will tighten your muscles in preparation for fight/flight/freeze, and cause your voice to sound more strident. You may be unconsciously signaling with your body that you’d rather be out on the street taking your chances with a vengeful gang member than engaging in conversation about what you do for a living.

The process of gaining clarity about what you’d like to contribute to the world through your work can be uncomfortable, but ultimately gratifying. Most of us are unaware that there is such a process, and those of us who are aware may not know how to begin.

Fortunately, the skills required for the process are learnable, and form the foundation of emotional intelligence. They are discussed in another post, entitled “Foundational EQ Skills.” If you’d like to know more about how to gain these skills, contact me at 410.280.1540 or email me, amy(at)eq-insights.com.

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