I’ve been alluding to a serious of articles centered around networking. I’ve gone from unknown to pretty well-connected in two years, and these articles will elaborate on my approach and mindset.
Whenever something truly extemporaneous happens to me, I always take a moment to step back, analyze what happened, and mull over how I could have handled it differently (… which often means better).
A few months ago I went gallivanting around Japan with my woman. One of the places we visited was Osaka, where my friend Andy Morgan had lived for 11 years before moving to Tokyo. Whilst living there, there had been a particular Starbucks Andy had frequented every day for six years.
When we showed up, the staff had not seen him in months and went into a bit of a tizzy. “Mo-gan-san,” they all said with reverence. We were fêted with free drinks and free cheesecake – the Starbucks VIP experience.
Sitting outside, Andy seemed to know everyone. Someone would park their car, get out, quickly glance in our direction, keep walking, stop in their tracks, and then perform a double-take before coming over to shake Andy’s hand and converse.
On the second day we went, I was at a table with my woman sitting right next to me. Andy was sitting on the table next to us. Andy’s friend Dave walked by, we were all introduced, and Dave sat down next to Andy.
As this was happening, someone came up to me (we’ll call him Person X), and essentially stated: “Oh wow, it’s you!”
At first, I thought it was Andy pulling a fast one on me; that he had enlisted one of his mates to pull a prank on me as if I was some celebrity.
It was not a prank. We both kinda dumbfoundedly stared at each other before I got my bearings, said hello, and quickly introduced Person X to my lady on my left, and then Andy and his friend on my right.
Person X introduced himself to Andy and Dave, and then introduced me to his wife (he was of Romanian descent and his wife was Japanese). We chatted for a few minutes, and then we parted ways.
Time to bust some balls
I’ll get to the point – note the last paragraph. Does something seem amiss?
Uh oh – looks like Person X properly introduced himself to Andy and Dave, but skipped over my woman.
And do you know how I know that? Afterwards, she stated in no uncertain terms: “I got snubbed.” I may not have noticed it, but she noticed the lack of a hello.
Now, I don’t think he meant to snub her. I would wager it was not a malicious or even intentional snub, but the result was the same.
Not a good move.
Who is the most influential person in someone’s life?
I opened with how “I always take a moment to step back and analyze what happened,” and there are so many things to mull over.
One of them is to view our interaction as the beginning of a relationship. Person X knew who I was, and by introducing himself, I am now aware of him.
But, because of his interaction with my lady, the likelihood that I would want to further the relationship is greatly decreased.
Why? Because he offended someone I trust and am loyal to. Someone whose opinion I respect.
If we abstract this simple understanding, we realize that people like/dislike you not only based on their interactions with you, but also based on feedback from the people around them.
I mean, that’s what social proof is right? You’re relying on someone else you trust to vouch for someone you may not know.
Continuing this thought process of social proof and feedback based on people around you, the super salient question that arises is:
Who does someone trust the most?
Provided someone is in a stable and strong relationship, that’s an easy answer: the significant other.
(the 1b to this 1a answer is ‘assistant’)
And yet at most business events, who gets ignored most?
“The significant other.”
(the assistant example is just as true)
What a foolish oversight. You are ignoring the one person who has the most clout with someone else!
When building rapport with someone, it’s not just about them, but also about the people around them. And the most important person around someone is their significant other (and assistant if they have one)
My own experience as the “other”
I’m going to expand on this for another day, but the first conference I went to was a mortifying experience. This was back when I was really shy; I only went because I worked with a very well known individual in the industry. Due to my shyness, I hung around him all day (and night), and people kept coming up to him to chat.
The number of people who even said hi to me?
The number of people who engaged me beyond that?
I learned my lesson that day by being the “other” person and seeing how people treated me.
It sucks being someone else’s “other.”
When I got to an event, I take great pleasure in chatting up someone’s significant other.
I treat it as an opportunity to take a break from just business-talk and instead chit chat about something else. This also yields a conversation that is so much more natural and easy-flowing, which is always so much more gratifying.
I should note that this is borne from empathy, not strategy. In a way, I’m more mollifying my own memory than embracing a tactical move.
The above applies doubly to an assistant. They’re humans, not machines for you to use.
Even worse is when people are downright rude to the assistant… Do you really think you’re more important than the person who organizes and manages someone’s life?
Say hi to the significant other/assistant. Have a conversation with them. Treat it as a break from business and enjoy.
Friends, not network.
My mantra when I get my “networking” on is “I’m here to make friends, not build my network.”
I will expand on that another day, but the basic gist is that there are enough intelligent and impactful people in the world that you don’t have to get along with everyone. Invoking Dunbar’s number, there’s a finite amount of people you can truly connect with (and essentially an infinite number of people to connect with).
So you may as well make it people you like.
Yes, saying hi to the significant other has worked out professionally. But it’s worked out because people pick up on the fact that I want to have a genuine conversation with them, not utilize them in some kind of manipulative scheme. People are not dumb – they’ll see through your selfish attempts.
Reflecting on this, I should note that when the significant other sings my praises, it is never about business savvy or intelligence. It’s always some common bond that we’ve happened up on that their partner also shares.
Engage with the significant other, but not in a business/strategic sense. Talk to them like a normal human being, and you’ll only reap the benefits.
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