By Maria Elena Duron
Every place is a good place to network, right? After all, people do business with people. A gathering of people is a prime location to network, connect and exchange Twitter handles or even business cards. Yet, this isn't true for every occasion.
Networking well, in a way that reflects positively on you and those around you, requires a great deal of restraint and self-discipline. If you don't calculate every interaction, you can give others the impression that you're aloof, disinterested or preoccupied with something more important than what's occurring at that moment. In the following situations, the risk can be quite higher than the reward:
1. At a celebration with an honored guest or a highly personal focus on someone
The risk: Shifting the focus of the event away from the honoree and onto you. Ambitious networkers can come across as a bull in china shop if they are gregariously greeting others and asking for business cards. In an attempt to hear others and be heard, a networker's booming voice can distract and detract from the festivities and the purpose of the gathering.
The best practice: Focus on the celebration and the celebrant. You can still network, but only in a very subtle way. In "How to Win Friends and Influence People," Dale Carnegie says if you can get people to speak about themselves and what's important to them, you'll have their interest.
Form your networking questions around the celebrant, perhaps asking, "how do you know [the honoree]?" Or, "what was [the honoree] like when you met him?" And then listen. The more you know about someone and what they value, the more powerful and skilled you'll be in developing that relationship during a more appropriate time or in a follow-up conversation.
2. At any event, when it's way past closing time
The risk: Hearing and seeing more than you want to or need to and being remembered as the person who saw and heard someone at a time that was not his or her finest hour. There are times when we regret our behavior. And so we may avoid anyone we associate with or remember from that moment in our life. It's very similar to the halo effect experienced when someone associates you with a wonderful event or happening in their life, except the association is now negative.
We've all had the experience of staying longer than we had intended. We may have seen the wild dance on the table that embarrassed everyone who was there. We may have heard the loud fight between a couple. Or we may have witnessed the mess made by an inebriated attendee.
The best practice: Watch the time at an event. There is a point when the attendance in the room wanes, and that's when you should leave. Don't try to network when people are becoming louder or more argumentative or dropping their inhibitions. Remove yourself from the event and from being associated with that memory.
3. At a highly personal tragedy
The risk: Coming off as callous, calculating and uncaring. These moments and gatherings are all about the survivors or the victims and those who care about them. Seeing this as an opportunistic moment can immediately backfire and be extremely detrimental to your reputation.
Here is where you actions can speak louder than words. How can you help? What can you do make the lives of the survivors, victims and families easier?
The best practice: Now is the time to leap into action and to help in ways that are helpful to those in need or suffering. In "The Go-Giver," Bob Burg shares that changing focus from getting to giving, putting others' interest first and continually adding value to their lives ultimately leads to unexpected returns.
4. At a children's party or event
The risk: Being perceived as that overly ambitious person who puts his or her needs and interest above that of a child. Imagine being at a soccer game and realizing that the person you've been wanting to meet is sitting next to you on the bleachers. There's no amount of time or money at stake that makes this the right time to network.
The best practice: Remember the basics of relationship building: Find out what's important to someone, and share your common frame of reference. This could be quick comments about how well his or her child is doing or a comment on how great it is to be able to see the game. Be a part of the event, and make time to participate. The most important practice is to focus on the now and make sure you're focused on what matters most to those in attendance.
Maria Elena Duron is a brand relationship trainer, national presenter, author and small business marketing coach specializing in helping individuals, teams, businesses and organizations apply the concepts of the book "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace" in their daily business and interactions with customers. She is editor-in-chief of the Personal Branding Blog.
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