Networking is ubiquitous in the business world, but it’s still a polarizing term (not sure about this? Just Google ‘hate networking’). For some the term conjures up unpleasant images of sweaty palms, insincere smiles, bulging bundles of business cards and a generally shark-like atmosphere. And anecdotal evidence points to the fact that young people, used to the natural intimacy of school and college and new to the mores of the corporate world, are particularly turned off by traditional networking.
So if pitching and pumping hands is not your idea of a fun Friday night, there may be an alternative developing, according to a recent piece in Gen Y-focused Unlimited magazine online. In it, writer Cailynn Klingbeil profiles professionals who are looking for a less frenzied, more human way to make connections, including Canadian artist Mark Hopkins who hosts a new kind of networking event:
Instead of the elevator pitches and mass business card handouts that can characterize the other networking events Hopkins has attended, his events involve a relaxed evening. “The concept is incredibly simple. It’s that we should meet people,” Hopkins says. “I don’t set an agenda and the conversation that takes place is really up to whoever shows up, so it’s constantly changing.” One week an artist might mingle with an accountant, laborer or student, while the next party will see a baker, politician, tree planter and doctor take over Hopkins’ living room….
“I live, and I think all of us live, in little silos. If you’re always talking to the same people and always going to the same places, your perspective inevitably becomes somewhat narrowed,” Hopkins says. “I know that I’m richer for having encountered perspectives that I never would have otherwise, and I hope that other people are as well.”
Slow networking is a catchy term and one that captures both the usual objections to networking and the attraction of an alternative that lets relationships develop before exploring business advantages rather than the other way around. Klingbell does a great job of popularizing this term and for this reason alone the piece is well worth a read in full, but the question remains: Exactly how different is slow networking from, well, regular networking done well?
Relationship-building gurus like Keith Ferrazzi have been pitching the idea that frenzied pursuit of short-term gain through others is really a bastardization of what real networking is about for years. Instead, building authentic, reciprocal relationships with those that might benefit you is the way to go. Which suggest the sole difference between being a normal relationship-hungry human and a ‘networker’ is simply a goal beyond the self-evident pleasure of meeting interesting new people.
“I think a lot of people jump into networking without really stopping to think, ‘what do I need?’ You have to know why you’re networking and what you are looking for. What do you want out of it?” a networking expert tells Klingbell, proving the point.
So if you want something out of the meeting can you still call it slow networking? And if you don’t, is it networking at all?
London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for BNET.com.