Rather like innocent victims of war being referred to as ‘collateral damage’, networking is the linguistic prettifying of a creepy distortion of normal social contact. I hate networking. Please don’t network me.
A new piece by Adam Grant, an American professor of management and psychology, has suggested networking is overrated, that simply being good at what you do is more effective in getting ahead. But in a way that’s beside the point, because even if it works, it’s dirty.
One of the clues networking is dishonourable is that the networker can never declare themselves a networker while they’re networking. It is at heart, a clandestine activity. Obviously there are those overt networking events and I accept they can have a place, as everyone there is a consenting participant. They are really meet-ups with the wrong name.
But true networking is a sneaky twisting of one of the most precious and beautiful things humans can do with each other and that is, hang. Anyone who describes a party, a wedding, a funeral as ‘a good networking opportunity’ is a soulless psychopath intent on abusing the hang. Hanging is the agenda-less sharing of time in search of fun/insight/someone to cry on. Seeking profit is different. Once we do that we’re not hanging, we’re in a meeting and therefore we should be in an office and there should be weak coffee, a plate of biscuits and a man called Ian from IT Support setting up the PowerPoint.
If you’re reading this and imagine I may be of some use to you, that the magazines, the websites, the emails I work with should feature your solar powered toaster, your ambient electronica project, your range of sustainable underpants then just ask. Don’t get on with me at the party of a mutual friend, swap email addresses, ‘like’ all my Instagrams, respond to my tweets… in a relentless, dead-eyed build to that moment where you say, “Yes, Phil and that reminds me of my new range of underpants. They’re made from hemp!”
I’ve been networked in the morning, very late at night, at street parties, in remote and beautiful sites of special scientific interest. I once spent 30 minutes listening to someone’s concept album about the pointlessness of capitalism while on a family break in Italy.
Usually I feel more sad than angry when the reveal comes. When I wake up to reality, “Ah I see, you’re not laughing at my jokes because you find them funny, you’re not interested in my theory about Love Island and street crime, you want to use me”. Discovering that this new friend is in fact a sleeper agent waiting for their moment is genuinely disappointing.
I accept that sometimes two people meet, genuinely get on and have mutually beneficial business to conduct. Here I invoke The Rules of Engagement. The networker will allow the two agendas to mingle, loose and free. To slip from talking about the recent death of a much loved pet to an industrial cleaning contract and back, over a pint and a packet of dry roasted.
I say no.
The moment these two very different streams emerge you must separate them. You should talk about them in different places, and you should at all costs protect the friendship from the possible consequences of the cleaning contract going to shit once you get into the detail. The friendship – all the gigs you will see together, the weekends away with partners, that time when you can’t order a cab and have to walk for hours – all that is more valuable than any deal. The tragedy of a niggling work-based resentment festering in the dark, spoiling all the trust and the fun of friendship must be avoided at all costs.
If we ever find ourselves at the same event. Don’t do it - be good at something and be straightforward about what you’re after and go after it at the right time. Don’t work the room, walk into the room and drift around feeling insecure about your hair like normal human being.
I’ll be there for you in the corner fiddling with the hummus dip, and I have a lot to say about Love Island and street crime.