How to Network Like a 6-Year-Old

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networking like a six year oldIt’s funny how making the journey from childhood to adulthood seems to parallel the journey from the traditional sales approach to modern networking.

Last fall, me, my wife and our two sons (a 2-year-old and a a 6-year-old) went out to our favorite hibachi restaurant – an amazing little hole-in-the-wall in Philly I’ve been going to since I was a 6-year-old myself.  They have AMAZING food and really no other hibachi joint I’ve ever been to could to hold a candle to them.

Anyway, we sit down at one of those large tables that have the stove built in to the center, and there’s another family at the end of the table – a mother, father and 12-year-old daughter.  As per usual, hibachi is a shared dining experience.

Being cordial, our families greeted each other and exchanged some chit-chat about how amazing the restaurant is and how both of our families have been patrons forever.  And then my 6-year-old son chimes in with a completely unprompted “I’ve got the Minecraft game on Xbox!”.  To which they responded kindly that that was great and “gee I bet that’s fun”.

Now if it had stopped right there, there would be no point in even telling this story, but…

A minute later my son throws out another random fact about having beat a hard level of Super Mario recently.  The family acknowledges him again and then continues on with whatever they were discussing.  Then they get another random fact about video games, and a few minutes later a description of a toy my son loves… on and on.  What started off as cute, was turning into uncomfortable for everyone involved!

But it occurred to me how similar it is to how some people network:

“Hi there, I’m John Roberts, with Bank of America.  Nice to meet you!  Here’s my card.  If you ever need any help getting a loan, please think of me… (on and on for a few minutes before they bother to ask anything about you).

The point here is that while young kids are great in many ways, they don’t make the best networking role models.  They often make the mistake of thinking the entire world revolves around them and their interests and don’t stop to take in the other person’s perspective and try to see what they are doing, what their interests are and what they happened to have been doing when the child suddenly burst into the conversation with “I just got the 7th Chaos Crystal in my Sonic Generations game!”

When networking, you might have many of your own interests right at the forefront of your mind, screaming for your attention.  It’s possible you might have a lot of pressure on you to find some leads or make that sales quota you only have two more days to make.  But you have to do your best to put those things at the back of your mind.  Sure, it’s possible you might run into someone who desperately needs your services at just that moment, but the chances are pretty low for that.

Remember, as many wise individuals have said before me: networking is about farming, not hunting.  When you hunt, you are dealing with prey and you need to move FAST and take them by SURPRISE so they don’t know what hit them.  It’s all about YOU and taking what you want. It’s a simple concept, and easy for a 6-year-old to grasp.

But real relationship building takes a more mature, grown-up approach: patience, care and attention to the needs and interests of the person you are dealing with.