So, I ran into Dan Drezner in the trendy-food part of the West Loop in Chicago tonight, as you do when you are at APSA. Dan asked if I was planning to respond to his post on networking, which is critical of my earlier post. Honestly, it was not high on my agenda, but who can resist networking as a motivation to write a post on networking?
In my post, I suggest that networking can have efficiency, career opportunity, and political benefits, with the caveat that it is not easy, does not always come naturally, and can actually be harmful if it goes awry. Dan suggests that neither myself nor Christian Davenport address the pitfalls of bad networking along with the benefits of good networking, and asks me to follow up with particular practical advice (and on my unfortunate description of “ah, the stories I could tell” about networking gone wrong).
While I will resist telling my own horror stories, I will take the bait to provide some skeleton advice that I’ve learned over the years – some from my experience, some from others’; some ‘the easy way,’ some ‘the hard way.’
So here are my humble ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ suggestions …
(caveat: none of these are universal, and I don’t take any responsibility for the results)
1) Listen. The best way to network is to get to know what the people you want to know are passionate about. Rather than constantly promoting yourself or interjecting in the conversation, sometimes listening so that your contribution to the conversation can be unique and memorable is worth it.
2) Pay attention to both intellectual and social cues. The best way to connect to people is as both a scholar and a person – care about their work, and be likable to them personally.
3) Treat each person you are interacting with as an individual. There is not a formulaic way to approach people, a formulaic conversation to have, something that works every time. Sensitivity to the way that people are comfortable interacting is as important as your comfort.
4) Realize that everyone you want to network with is only human – they can get busy, or stressed, or late, or lost – sometimes those are not good times. If someone forgets having met you, its possible that they were just preoccupied. Or having a rough day. Try again. That said, see below #2.
5) Establish relationships at a normal-human speed. The first time you meet someone, talk for a couple of minutes, get a card, email, and start to exchange conversation. Rather than saying everything you ever needed to say to that person when you corner them after a panel, get to know them because you want to get to know them – become colleagues, acquaintances, even friends – but realize that this too is a social relationship.
6) Build networking on common interests – business meetings, receptions, and the like are good places to start if you don’t know anything else; but genuine common interests (like, real-life) are even better.
1) DRINK TOO MUCH. I put this in caps because, lets be honest, its many people’s biggest problem. Sometimes its an infinite loop – we are nervous, so we drink to calm down, then we feel calm, so we go try to network drunk. While some violations of this rule turn out okay in the end, as a general rule, if you are too drunk to tie your shoes, you are too drunk to be around anyone you do not already know.
2) STALK PEOPLE. If you want to get to know someone, talk to them, follow the advice of #4 and #5 above. But if you try a couple of times and it just does not work; or you follow someone around and do not try – just back off for a while. You want to be their colleague, not their feature on America’s most wanted.
3) TALK TOO MUCH. This is related to #1 above. Taking social cues is important.
4) Push yourself so far outside of your comfort zone that it is obvious to everyone around you. I’ll talk about this more below – but if this is hard for you, take little steps. Email first, ask a panel question, have a friend introduce you, meet the less scary people first … even if approaching someone when you are clearly terrified gets you into a conversation, it isn’t likely to get you what you want.
5) Instrumentalize people. A point Dan Nexon makes well. Instrumentalizing people is not only just wrong, it is actually counterproductive. Sometimes you miss important elements of connection by being benefit-seeking. Networking does not have to be purely instrumental, and when you treat it like that, you lose both a sense of humanity and some of its coolest benefits (like, say, making friends).
The normal caveats apply to this: none of these things will always apply; they are personal lessons not general beatitudes; sex, race, sexuality, gender, gender identity, class, institution, and other privileges apply; I acknowledge that the lessons would be more fun with the stories that accompany them; etc.
Another, harder caveat also applies, though, which Dan Drezner mentions: what of those of us for whom this sort of socialization is uncomfortable if not unbearable? The short answer is: I don’t know. My initial reaction would be that we all use our comparative advantages, and the real task is finding what they are and capitalizing on them. But I don’t think its that simple – I think that this is harder for introverted people than people who are more outgoing, and that the axes of discrimination in the world and in the field listed above also matter to how networking is tried and how it fares. The former is rough, and I don’t know what I can say to help. The latter – well, those dynamics need to be changed for lots of reasons, and networking is only one among many.
With that, I adjourn to the (Palmer House) hotel bar.