Some original networkers networking, old-school

To many people ‘networking’ is a dirty word. It conjures up images of career ladder rung-clamberers, forced bonhomie and awkward hand-switching of finger-food.

Not me. I love networking.

It is an honourable activity. The tradition goes all the way back to fishing, when the fisherman would draw on their life experiences and skilled hands to ‘work’ the ‘nets’ in order to make their ‘net’ ‘work’ more effectively. That way neither they nor their families would starve during the bitter winter that inevitably lay ahead. Networking was life-and-death important.

And as the men worked, they would chat: about great deeds they had performed in the past, ideas they had for future fishing projects, or just things they had a mutual interest in, like the weather. For sea-faring fisherfolk, the weather can mean the difference between a swift journey home or perishing at sea. It is no idle subject.

Over time, ‘networking’ evolved into a city-dwelling mostly-figurative activity. No nets are actually worked on, but one’s social and professional circle is expanded, so you can cover more area as you work. Very useful.

The weather chit-chat at a meeting might seem to be pointless, but it serves the very real purpose of knowledge-sharing, and building a foundation for greater levels of cooperation. Countless times in the past, a shared weather conversation between two fishermen resulted in them deciding to go out for dinner later the next week, and then subsequently open a successful smokehouse and cannery. Future prosperity aside, weather conversations stem from the very real need original networkers had to protect themselves against the capricious nature of freak storms.

As for yourself? Have a good knowledge of weather topics and you’ll never find yourself becalmed at a social function.

When you’re out at a work function like I was last night, or if you’re staying behind for a drink after an improv workshop or what-have-you, remember: you’re not just chatting, you’re on the longtail of a mighty and proud tradition. Of fishing. Networking is something to be proud of.

To catch fish, you need to be sure your ‘net’ ‘works’

Networking (the word and the activity) makes lots of people uncomfortable. Alleviate this discomfort by dropping the word  into conversation as frequently (and as early) as possible. Example: When in a conversation with a potential client or partner, interrupt them by blurting out “We’re networking!” and then holding up your hand for a high five.

NOTE: It may come across as crass, but this move is deceptively sophisticated. It draws attention to the networking-in-progress, and defuses its awkwardness. It is the same thing a comedian does when she comments on someone’s mobile phone ringing during a show. It is also a ‘power move’ that puts you in clear control of the conversation (especially as the other person may have now lost their train of thought). It’s a perfect time to bring up a business opportunity.

BONUS: You get a high-five, and high fives are fun. While often unfairly maligned as a less classy version of a handshake, a well-executed high-five is much more satisfying than a handshake.

DOUBLE BONUS: According to the Peter Principle, each person is promoted to a level of their own incompetence. Therefore most people have very little idea what they’re doing in their job. So the person you’re talking to is quite likely at least mildly incompetent. As such, they will really appreciate the positive feedback and implicit approval contained in a high-five.

Go get ’em, Tiger!