Everyone and their brother (and their sister) is being spurred to attend networking events and, of course, to network their way to success.
But while there certainly can be benefits to networking, including making new connections and strengthening weak ones, seldom is one warned of the downsides of networking. The Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger entitled
Fix That Dead-End Conversation tells many stories of how people get trapped into conversations at various events that aren’t even designed for networking, like a dinner at a fund-raising event. And these stories can help you understand ways you can get trapped and ways to extricate yourself from unwanted conversations. Please read the article for this context.
But the author has done bloggers like me the favor of distilling all her advice down to seven tips, slightly edited to make them more appropriate for startup networking events:
- Redirect a chronic complainer by asking that person to suggest solutions. Of course, you just might find they do have some solutions, and you will find yourself stuck like a fly in amber.
- If your conversational partner starts getting defensive back off and start asking thoughtful questions that metaphorically puts the ball back in their court.
- If your acquaintance starts gossiping about a mutual acquaintance say, “She has that nicest things to say about you.”
- In the highly likely event that the other person gets caught up in boasting, compliment him or her and then change the subject. (It might help to arm yourself with a set of topics you can fall back on at networking events, like “what do you think will happen to BitCoin? Will it’s value continue to oscillate or will it end up stabilizing? Or, do you agree with Elon Musk that AI is a threat to human autonomy?)
- If the person you are stuck talking with starts ranting about local problems ask how issues in their locality compare with other hot spots for startups.
- If a divisive conversation gets out of control hold up you hand in the universal sign for stop to halt the conversation.
- If you find yourself subject to a diatribe about some government policy, like net neutrality, ask what would happen if government policies were never changed?
Ms. Shellenbarger talks with J. Kelly Hoey,acclaimed business columnist and networking expert, author of the book Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World. I have yet to read it and probably won’t ,as I’m not big on networking myself, but Amazon readers give it four and a half stars. Ms. Hoey recounts a how humor can help defuse a potential inflammatory discussion with someone you end up talking with at a networking event. Humor is such a popular technique that there are entire articles about how to use humor to your advantage, such as Use Humor To Befriend, Defuse Tension And Have More Fun by Kare Anderson.