Last week an op-ed I wrote for a well-regarded industry publication, Financial Planning Magazine, went live. Though the audience for it is financial advisors and planners, you may find some of the points and questions I shared useful. (Click here to check it out; it’s behind a registration wall, but you can read it for free.)

I met Chana Schoenberger, the Editor-in-Chief of FPM, several years ago, at a networking event. And, I have had the privilege of being interviewed by her when she worked at other publications. I am truly grateful that she thinks of me to make a contribution – whether it’s in the form of a quote, or, as in this case, to pen an op-ed.

Michelle Warner, creator of “Networking That Pays,” is joining me to co-host this month’s Comfort Circle™ dinner. Our collaboration on networking is also a result of networking. Michelle and I met through a dear friend of ours, at the height of the pandemic. Our shared love of behavioral finance made us instant buddies. (She even studied with one of the  “fathers” of behavioral finance!) 

These are but two examples of opportunities and collaborations that came about because of networking. In fact, my calendar and inbox are full of interactions with people I’ve built a connection with, or am in the process of doing so. 

I suspect your calendar and inbox would reveal the same. Yes?

And Yet

When I ask most people if they love or hate networking, they frequently opt for the latter. What about you; how do you feel about it? 

I find the negative sentiment about networking truly fascinating. Because most professional relationships start with some form of networking. 

And, relationships are one of the biggest secrets to your and my success

So, what gives? Why does networking have such a bad rap?

I am curious to hear your thoughts, so comment below and let me know. In the meantime, below are a few of mine – courtesy of networking experiences I’ve had:

It’s Awkward!

I grew up as a single child. And yes, I was that child who went up to other children with the invitation to play. However, all this means is that I’ve grown accustomed to putting myself in awkward situations. 🙂 But that doesn’t mean entering a room of strangers isn’t uncomfortable at first.

Instead of wishing it weren’t so, I’ve learned to embrace this feeling. Because it usually subsides soon after the first conversation.

 It Can Feel Fake & Transactional

Have you ever gone to an event where it feels like it is nothing more than a card-exchange fest? Or, experienced the latest version of the same: Everyone opening up LinkedIn and exchanging QR codes. Yuck and yuck! 

One of the reasons these experiences can feel fake and transactional is that it prioritizes quantity over quality. It emphasizes the number of people you talk with rather than the number of people you connect with. The difference in approach and mindset is subtle, but significant.

I’ve reached the point where if I leave an event with a commitment to only follow-up with one person, that’s success in my eyes.

“So, what do you do?”

This is usually the standard bearer question after the introductions, at least at events. Yet, whether the question is framed as above or asked as, “tell me about yourself?,” you may find yourself fumbling. Because you don’t have a 30-second elevator pitch that sums up who you are, what you do, for whom, and why. 

Ha! Neither do I. I mean, really, you read my posts; how often have they been short?!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be able to describe yourself, your body of work, why it matters, and why it’s important to you – in a pithy way. Just don’t be robotic, which is how some elevator pitches come across. 

Here’s what works for me: Simply saying, “I work as a financial behaviorist.” That’s actually less than 30-seconds. But the conversation that follows rarely is. Because I’m always asked, “What does that mean?” 

How do you answer the inevitable networking question?

Imposter Syndrome Kicks In

The feeling of belonging likely bubbles up more with in-person events. When you don’t feel like you fit in because you are the “only” in the room. The only woman; the only man; the only Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, or White person. 

Or, maybe you start to feel self-conscious about your experience and level of success, or education, or (fill in the blank) believing it doesn’t measure up to the others in the space. And now you’re wondering if you have anything to offer (ya know, the whole “give & get” thing).

The space makes you feel inadequate, rather than safe. 

The space doesn’t feel welcoming. 

If you’ve experienced this, then you know it absolutely sucks. 

But, before you go running for the doors, check-in with yourself. Aside from being the “only” in the room, which is a fact, the other examples are based on feelings. And while your feelings are always valid, they may be more informed by things that happened outside the event space than within it.

Get & Get vs. Give & Get

What makes a networking event or call worth your time? That depends on your intent, goal, and what you need or want, right?

So, let’s embrace the fact that you’re showing up with an agenda, and so is the other person. Therefore, let’s not make the phrase, “What’s in it for me?,” a “bad” thing. 

After all, one of the purposes in connecting is to discover what you respectively need and want. And seeing if you are potential channels for each other in that regard. 

During the course of your conversation, you each may realize you do, indeed, have a resource to share, an idea to contribute, or an additional connection to make.

Or, it may be the case you don’t have anything to offer aside from a welcoming ear. This reality is what can trip up people.

Reciprocity isn’t always immediate. And if the other person helps you promptly (or you them), one of you may feel pressure to be “valuable” in return — instantly. But, this isn’t fair to either of you. 

Nor is reciprocity always direct. You may never be able to “give” to the person standing next to you at an event, or on that Zoom call. Or, vice versa. But, you can still be generous and give. 

For me, reciprocity is about giving where you genuinely can. And if someone helps you out and you can’t do the same in return for them, then pay it forward by being of service to someone else. The way I see it, reciprocity isn’t a zero sum game, nor is it confined to 1:1.

Relationships > Everything!

Is saying relationships are greater than everything a bit dramatic? Maybe. Nevertheless, the way I see it, you can network without building relationships. But, you can’t do the reverse.

And, that isn’t such a bad thing in my opinion. Especially when you consider how much you need the help of others to achieve your goals and get your wants and needs met.

It’s why I am a fan of centering relationships when you and I network. It’s why I believe relationships are one of the biggest secrets to your and my success. 

It’s why we’re talking about networking this month. 

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