Summary: Networking is an essential part of business opportunity and professional development, but not all networking groups and functions are created equal.
Though my first “meet and greet” event left a bad taste in my mouth that I can still recall to this day, the experience luckily hasn’t turned me off to the importance of networking. With that mentioned, it’s worth taking a (not-so pleasant) trip down memory lane.
Your Reputation Precedes You
Based on past positive and friendly experiences volunteering with a local “young professionals” group, I decided to take the next step to officially join the organization as a member, instead of merely an event participant. I was shocked, then, to witness an immediate “Jekyll and Hyde” style transformation.
One Chance for a First Impression
“It takes 500 small details to add up to one favorable impression.” — Cary Grant
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation… and five minutes to ruin it.” — Warren Buffett
Sadly, not everyone seems to share these ideas.
My first “official” (non-volunteer) contact with the group came in the form of three e-mails I sent (over the course of six weeks), with no response. Phone calls made during this time were consistently sent to voicemail — again with no follow up to be had.
Finally opting to blindly attend a speaker/luncheon event, I was met with disinterest from the moment I walked through the door. In fact, without so much as a “Hello,” I was gruffly informed that I must immediately pay dues, or I would be escorted out of the event. What a fine threat!
I was then informed that there are “assigned seats,” (I didn’t realize this was kindergarten) and that I was to sit only where I was told to, only when I was told to do so (I also didn’t realize this was reform school). As the kids say, “Seriously?” Welcome to the Good Ol’ Boys Club.
You’re Not Welcome Here
But if I somehow missed (or perhaps chose to ignore) this red flag, I soon found out there would be many more to come.
At no point during this surprisingly tense introduction was I welcomed. No “We’re glad you’re here.” No “How did you hear about us?” No explanation of the group’s purpose and mission. Even a crude comment or gesture would have at least acknowledged my presence.
These very basic pleasantries are necessary to make new and existing members feel welcomed. Instead, this needlessly stand-offish first impression was a true missed opportunity.
Communication is Key
Despite this rather militant introduction, I somehow made it past the “gate guard” and into the event itself, where I mingled with some other new members, as we awaited our top-secret seat assignments. But if the child treatment had ended, the overall contempt had just begun.
A fellow “newbie” inquired about orientation sessions and “welcome meetings” she had seen listed on the website. Apparently, these sessions were designed to “make new members feel at home.” Again, we were (quite aggressively) informed that the sessions had been discontinued, and that we should not bring them up again. Sore spot alert!
Following the escapade, er… event, I reached out via e-mail to the few who were actually willing to chat at the luncheon. Most mentioned experiencing similar scenarios and take-aways. One asked me not to contact him again. A convert to the anti-social club?
I can now count at least eight individuals (myself included) who were turned off by the outlandish behavior they were forced to endure at this event. What a waste of potential!
They say it’s best to “let sleeping dogs lie.” But since I (apparently) never fully grasped this cliché, I decided to reach out to the organization, to relay the concerns that I (and others) experienced at the event, and to raise awareness to potential areas of improvement. Sadly (though not entirely surprisingly at this point), my ‘spokesperson’ role soon turned into one of the ‘whipping boy.’
My initial idea was to perhaps give the group another chance. Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment. Perhaps I also never fully grasped another cliché that states “perception is reality.”
And perhaps that’s why — in order to drill into the thick skull of a guy who just didn’t “get it” — I was lambasted, accused of being over-sensitive, and even “informed” that I must not have made enough of an effort to become involved, or that I approached the event with an antagonist and aggressive attitude. The group president even had the courtesy to ‘cc’ his stern lecture e-mail to every other member of the organization. Thanks for the (unsolicited) feedback.
Lessons Learned… the Hard Way
Much of life is focused on building and maintaining relationships. In addition to successful business people who understand the importance of prompt follow-up with new clients, parents take great care to be active participants in their child’s academic and social development — contributing to regular contact with teachers and education professionals. Without this type of communication and attention-to-detail, progress and continued involvement on both sides will quickly slow to a complete halt.
A large part of involvement in any group — whether a professional network, church, or other organization — is the sense of belonging, and the opportunity for individuals to contribute to a goal larger than themselves. Without this feeling of acceptance, people are more likely to experience the effects of estrangement, and to recoil from opportunities to “give back” to their community — no matter how noble those opportunities may be.
Still, the final responsibility falls to the individual. When one network or group fails to achieve the prescribed goals, another should be sought out.
by Mr. Grunbau
Employment and Enterprise
Residential Life Magazine