Column: For the strongest networks, you have to at least like your contacts
In the early days of networking, you would develop connections with someone based solely on what you thought you could gain from them. You connected with those in power or who would someday be in power strictly based upon the benefit you could gain from that connection.
Sometimes that meant you had to overlook your own personal tastes in who you associated with. Maybe it meant you had to hang out with jerks, or boors, or boorish jerks. If so, that was the price you had to pay.
Maybe that's still true for some people to this day, but maybe it isn't necessary for most of us. In fact, maybe it isn't even advisable for most of us.
The most powerful networking today is between people who actually want to help each other. Guess what? That also means they usually like each other, too.
Think about it. If you don't like someone — you don't have to hate or even actively dislike them — if you don't gain some amount of pleasure from being in their presence, then how likely is it that you will want to do something for them out of the goodness of your heart? I'm guessing not very.
After all, you have enough people in your life who you like and respect who would also appreciate your attention. Is that wrong? I don't know. All I do know is that no matter how hard you try, you just aren't going to truly like everyone.
Oh, and I'm not even saying that there is something particularly wrong about them. Believe it or not, two perfectly delightful people might just not get along.
This is the reason that I tell people that, when they meet a new person at a networking event, you shouldn't jump to asking for a business card. First, of course, you should strike up a conversation to try to learn a little more about that other person.
If you can imagine enjoying sitting down to coffee with them, then ask for their card. If, however, you discover that you don't actually enjoy talking to them, it's perfectly acceptable to bring the conversation to a close without expressing any interest in continuing it at a later date.
You know what, though? In the years that I've been networking, the number of generally likable and friendly people I've met far exceeds the number whom I would rather avoid. I figure that's a good thing.
I'd much rather fill my network with friends than try to network with jerks.