To me, there are two sad things about the networker we all love to hate, The Hustler:
(Some) Hustlers Aren’t Being True To Themselves
First, I worry that many Hustlers are the result of otherwise nice, normal people trying to follow conventional networking advice that doesn’t work for them. Since a lot of networking ‘how to’ material focuses on a set formula for networking, I believe that a lot of people feel they have to suppress their natural instincts and ‘just do it’. It’s possible that conventional networking advice actually works for someone whose personality and strengths are aligned with it. But anytime someone tries to ignore their true nature and be something they are not, problems ensue.
The desperate, distracted, self centred vibe that a lot of Hustlers give off might simply be the product of this internal dissonance. It’s taking so much energy for them to override their natural instincts that they don’t even realize how unpleasant it’s making them to interact with. Or if they do realize it, they think it’s just an unfortunate side effect of doing what has to be done in order to be a ‘successful’ networker.
Hustlers Ruin Networking for Everyone
Second, Hustlers ruin networking for the rest of us. Networking skills like mingling, breaking the ice, making small talk, and listening are hard enough as it is. Throw a few hustlers into the mix and we also have to worry about someone taking advantage of our good faith efforts and wasting our time.
Making a connection with someone who’s been exposed to too many Hustlers is also more difficult, because of the ‘once burned, twice shy’ effect it tends to have. Hustlers often employ good networking techniques in a superficial and self serving way (eg. offering uninformed ‘help’/advice). This makes it harder for the rest of us to have success using those same techniques in good faith.
What Can We Do?
The first order of business is to refuse to buy into the idea that we have to network in a way that feels wrong. Networking can’t always be comfortable, but there’s a difference between going outside our comfort zone and ignoring our intuition about right and wrong. If networking advice strikes you as something you’d feel just wrong doing, don’t do it. That is the best way to avoid being part of the problem: resist becoming a Hustler, even for a moment.
Next, if you can, avoid environments where The Hustler multiplies. Conventional business networking events are often rife with them so if you don’t have a compelling reason that you have to be at one, stay away.
Finally, developing some good communication and boundary-setting skills is crucial. This is a complex area that few people ever fully master, but one basic truth is that The Hustler thrives when no one tells them “no”. The Hustler can’t do anything to you that you don’t let them do, so develop the skills to put those limits in place and protect yourself.
One good resource I’ve found for clearly and effectively communicating with people in difficult situations is Crucial Conversations, a really great book.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but as off-putting as The Hustler is, try to be kind to them, even as you maintain healthy boundaries. They are likely exhausted, frustrated, and desperate. They probably don’t even know how awful they’re being.
You might also enjoy: Don’t Be That Guy (Pt. 1)