The Problem with Networking and How to Build Meaningful Relationships

One of my favorite ways to spend a rehearsal break, assuming I’m not running to the nearest store for much needed snacks or furiously practicing a fiendishly difficult section, is to catch up with friends and fellow colleagues.

I can vividly recall one such occasion when a member within a small gathering of musicians suddenly announced to the rest of us that they were off to “network.” With a smug grin and spring in their step, they promptly began inching their way unabashedly into conversations elsewhere, making sure to include only those that involved the conductor, contractor and other persons of perceived stature.

At first, I thought it might have been my reserved British nature that elicited a negative internal response to both the announcement and subsequent behavior. There wasn’t anything strictly wrong with what this person was doing, but somehow the nature of it rubbed me the wrong way.

Why? What was so bad about someone wanting to “network” with others and enhance their connections in the musical world? Isn’t that what we all want and need to do in order to succeed?

The problem was their clear motivation of self-interest combined with a lack of authenticity.

As referenced in a previous blog post, there are certain corporate words and phrases that seem cold and emotionless. “Networking” is one such word that conjures up images of soulless, binary computers whose only purpose is to fulfill commands and instructions as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Isn’t this a terrible picture to associate with an everyday human interaction? There are various contrasting definitions of the word “networking” but the following does not help matters:

“To interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career.”

The goal of furthering one’s career is valid and necessary but if self-interest is your core motivation for meeting people, you actually stand more chance of damaging a potential relationship before it even has the chance to develop.

So how do you authentically “network” then?

Building genuine, authentic relationships must be the key motivator that drives your intentions, not career advancement.

Building relationships is a mutual occurrence. Two people connect and stand to gain something from the encounter regardless of position, stature or means.

A good starting point is to change your mindset by replacing the word “networking” with the phrase “building relationships.” This instantly switches the image from negative to positive, cold to warm, robotic to human. It’s ultimately semantics but the important difference is that the weight you throw behind either word or phrase has to be virtuous and well-intentioned.

Is it OK to intentionally meet people at concerts and fundraising events that you know to be wealthy?


Is it OK to meet these folks with the goal of soliciting their money?


It’s human nature to consider the possibility. And obviously, it would be a welcome by-product of a mutually positive experience. But if your overriding motivation is to seek financial gain, then your intentions will be transparent and the relationship will not flourish.

Why? Because in order to make a good impression and build a healthy relationship with anyone, you need to be thoughtful and considerate, to listen and respond in real time to words and social cues, and to look for common ground to connect authentically. And perhaps most importantly, you need to be willing to accept that the relationship might not progress despite your best intentions and efforts.

Ask yourself how you can be sensitive to all of these crucial nuances if you have distracting dollar signs in front of your eyes?

Save yourself the time and energy and stop networking with people for your own benefit and start doing it for the most fundamental of reasons – for a human, gratifying, fulfilling experience for yourself and the recipient. These are the relationships that are the strongest, last longest and are most rewarding.

I can share all the specific marketing tactics and advice under the sun from social media content creation and advertising best practices, to public relations tips on writing press releases and pitching media coverage, but the truth is that building relationships is one of the ultimate keys to achieving your marketing and career goals. This includes building relationships with your peers, your colleagues, your audience, your social media followers, your mentors, your donors…everyone, no matter who they are.

Start today by committing to authentic “relationship building” as one of your core values in both life and work and you will succeed. Always give more value than you expect to receive in all of your social exchanges and you’ll find that true success will always follow, whether it’s tomorrow, next month, next year or ten years from now.