I really creeped out my friend at dinner recently.

We were talking about some of the stuff I teach in my We Hate Networking courses (this), and it totally rubbed her the wrong way.

“What?! You’re saying you would deliberately ask someone to help you with something to make them like you? That’s so gross and manipulative! That stuff should happen naturally, not because you planned it out.”

There’s no network fairy. I wish there were.

First of all, she’s got one thing right: getting a social support network should happen naturally and organically. We should all have the connections we need without any kind of strategy. We should just run into them as we go about our day. We should feel comfortable chatting and getting to know them until we are one big happy community that both looks out for each other and respects each other’s space at the same time.

Ahhhhh. What a lovely dream. I sure wish the world worked that way.

Guess what, though: it doesn’t.

We live in a time where, more than ever, the default option is isolation. Everything around us is pushing us apart, from mass media messages to the way our cities are built. I’m sure there are times when relationships happen on their own, without anyone trying too much, but what about the huuuuuuge majority of cases when they just plain don’t?

We need to stop loneliness shaming

If relationships are supposed to happen naturally, what do we tell people who haven’t got any? How are they supposed to handle the idea that it’s too bad they’re lonely and struggling to be all they can be, but only slimy creeps actually work at getting and building more relationships, so… tough luck, buttercup?

Even worse, we’re basically telling them that since a great social life hasn’t just magically manifested in their lives, it means they’re broken humans. If they were any good, they’d have it without having to work at it, right? At the very least, we’re saying they ought to be good at getting it without needing any techniques or theories – people either have a natural ability to make friends and business contacts, or I guess they’re barnacles on the bottom of the boat that is society. Is THAT what we’re saying? Come on.

This is some Grade A b#!!$#!+, my friends.

Intentional doesn’t mean evil

At a gut level, I get what my friend is saying. There is a bit of an ick factor when you think about being on the receiving end of this – someone targeting you, setting things up so that you develop a connection. That’s why we hammer on respect in everything we do in WHN – things like always being prepared to take no for an answer, making sure the other person always feels they have the choice of whether they give you help and/or accept help from you.

We’re not trying to trick or deceive anyone. Just set things up so that there’s a maximum chance of a win-win connection happening.

We can’t just shame people for not having connections, AND shame them for trying to get some. This is crazypants. It leaves a lot of people hanging, with no options but to stay isolated. Which is terrible for them, of course, but it also robs the rest of us of the amazing contributions they could be making to the world.

So let’s cut it out. And if you are a person who’s struggling with whether you should be deliberate about your networking, maybe even apply some strategies, but it’s feeling kind of gross to you, remember this:

As long as you are treating people with respect and honestly looking for mutually beneficial connections, you can’t really go wrong. You deserve a supportive, amazing network, and you have a right to put some work into getting it. Don’t let anyone tell you different.