The Princess Bride is my favourite movie. Like many people, my favourite character is Inigo Montoya, played by the amazing Mandy Patinkin.
One of Inigo’s most famous lines is delivered in response to the insistence of another character that it is “inconceivable” that they are being followed, in spite of the fact that they clearly are. Inigo says quietly,
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
This dialogue often plays in my head when the subject of networking comes up. Everyone keeps using the word “networking”, but I do not think it means what they think it means.
What They Think It Means
Many people define networking as what I would call “mingling” or “mixers”. The fact that so many mixer-type events are labeled “networking” only serves to reinforce that definition.
The term conjures up visions of bars, conference rooms, or convention centres, with coffee/drinks/hors d’oeuvre tables in the midst of people milling about. Some standing in groups engaged in conversation, and many wandering around trying to figure out what to do with themselves.
I’m not sure I know anyone who actually enjoys these sessions. I know people who are good at them and benefit from them, but that’s not the same thing as enjoying them.
The close association of these types of mixer activities with networking is why I believe so many of us hate networking. What we actually hate is awkward large group mixers. Perfectly understandable.
What It Truly Means, And Why It Matters
At its core, networking is about building a supportive and mutually beneficial set of connections with other humans. That’s it. As long as those connections are being created and developed, it really makes no difference how you go about it.
Your network could consist of family members, neighbours, ex-coworkers, people you met at the gym, old schoolmates, or a big messy combination of all these and more!
Networking is about having people. Your people enrich your life, and give you chances to provide value yourself.
It’s about always having someone to call when you need anything:
- someone to watch the game with
- someone to hire for a project
- someone to help you find new clients.
The list goes on. Everyone’s ideal network will look a little different depending on their personal situation and needs but the central meaning is the same: it’s about having people.
I consider myself very lucky in the network I have. I’ve got people and I love them. Here are just a few examples of how my life has been made richer recently by my wonderful network:
- In the past 2 weeks, I’ve enjoyed free fresh raspberries, sour cherries, and apricots from the yards of people I know. Who needs U-Pick when you have people?!
- A member of the We Hate Networking meetup group recommended me to facilitate a large group activity for a local organization where she volunteers. Who needs advertising when you’ve got people?
- I received an upsetting email and really needed to talk it over with someone. I sent out a few messages and within an hour had 3 offers to go for a walk and chat about it. Who needs to pace the floor alone when you’ve got people?!
Having people is amazing. And it’s the true meaning of networking.
Join us this month at the We Hate Networking Club meetup to talk about what your ideal network would look like, and what benefits it might generate.