Bad news: not everybody trusts you.

Maybe you’ve noticed that some people, when you try to be friendly, act like you’re really out of line. Their eyes say,

“Who the h#!! are you and why are you all up in my grill?”


“What do you want from me, you creep? Go away before I call the cops.”

Feel familiar?

As an unusually friendly and outgoing person, I get this maybe more than most. It’s always a little off-putting but over the years, I’ve learned to understand it a little and even sympathize with the pricklier types I encounter.

People react to friendliness this way for a reason – it’s learned behaviour. Somewhere along the way life has, unfortunately, taught them that they can’t always take friendliness at face value. They’ve learned not to trust too easily.

  • Maybe they’ve been burned by someone who was nice on the surface but mean behind their back.
  • Maybe they’ve encountered one too many smiling but sleazy salespeople who acted interested in them but were really only interested in bleeding them dry.
  • Maybe they’ve learned that sometimes what looks like friendliness is actually neediness and will lead to a violation of their boundaries.

Whatever the reason, many people have learned to be wary of too much friendliness and, although it seems backwards, being too friendly with them can backfire and make them put up even thicker walls against attempts to connect.

So what’s the lesson for us friendly networkers who really do mean well? How can we show these folks that we’re worth opening up to?

“Time and consistency” is the only answer. Nobody owes us anything, especially not right off the bat. Trust is earned.

Trust is earned, first of all, over the long run. If we’re only meeting someone once and they put up walls against us, that’s a non starter, don’t waste any time on it. The only way to get past this kind of wall is over multiple interactions.

If we do get these interactions, though, we can start showing them we’re worthy of their trust by respecting the boundary they set with their unfriendly attitude. If they don’t respond enthusiastically to attempts at conversation, we pull back to just saying hello. If even that seems like too much, just stick with a smile.

Eventually, most people will begin to thaw and we can progress from a smile, to a hello, to learning their name, to conversing, to offering and accepting help from one another. It can be a long process but I find that these hard-won connections can be the most solid. When people don’t give their trust and loyalty easily, it often means that they take those qualities very seriously.

This is a perfect example of why we so often say that networking is a long game. The most valuable connections, the most rich and fruitful, aren’t gained by glad handing at business mixers once or twice. They are built little by little over time, by proving your worth to the people you meet, even (or maybe especially if) they start out giving you the side-eye.