‘Don’t work with a-holes’: When it comes to networking, all business is personal

Deep down, most of us have an irreversible dislike of networking events. But does it always have to be this way? Comms specialist Kim Borrowdale thinks not.

A colleague sent this image to me today. I’ll give you a moment to read it. Just know as you do, that I’m not the a**hole in this scenario. Well, I don’t think I am anyway.

“If I could tell you just one thing” by Richard Reed

While chuckling over this paragraph, I thought of a conversation with a different friend I’ve had this week.

We were talking about what we’d like to manifest in the new year; what we’d like more of and what we’d like less of in our lives.

One of his work things that he’d like to do more of is to improve his networking skills even though he detests it and “is terrible at it and always has been.”

Doesn’t that sound like a soul-destroying resolution?

When chatting to him I could feel how much he not only hated the concept of networking, but also hear the resigned sense of failure in his voice when it comes to his perceived lack of skill in this area. And you know what? This feeling is far from uncommon. I could count on one hand the number of people who are pumped to network for networking’s sake. Instead, an impending networking event is likely to be met with a sigh and groan as people steel themselves to walk into an event full of new people with a smile and outstretched hand. And let’s not forget the dreaded small talk.

Be honest. This is you, isn’t it? It’s most of us!

So why do we do it to ourselves? Does it have to be so unappealing? How can we make networking something we want to do more of in our work lives?

I remember asking one of my old bosses in London, a matriarch of public relations, some of these questions. In the dog eat dog world of corporate PR, somehow she managed to honestly enjoy these networking events. She was never irritated by a**holes she came across during her day job, had a contact book that was spilling at the seams, and seemed to always have a genuine smile on her face.

I know, right. Who is this fictional creature?

When I asked her how she did it, she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said: “Don’t think of it as networking, think of it as hanging out with people you like. People you like spending time with are probably people you want to work with and usually people who want to work with you. And let’s face it, the people you don’t like, probably don’t like you either and aren’t going to do you any favours anyway. Don’t waste your time!”

So that’s why she could turn the other cheek when it came to industry a**holes. Once they showed their true colours, she put them into the bucket of people she wouldn’t be seeking out in future. I guess it makes difficult people easier to deal with if you decide they will not take up your emotional time.

I appreciate that at work you can’t always be surrounded by people you really like. It is more about recognising when you are putting too much emotional energy into people who aren’t contributing positively to your professional experience and perhaps never will.

In business you will come across people who are more your “tribe” than others. You will also come across people who rub you the wrong way for no particular reason. By the way, don’t be under any illusion that you aren’t that person for someone out there!

It doesn’t mean that you can’t have perfectly productive working relationships with people who are not your professional kindred spirits. But, when it comes to networking, it’s about shifting our mindsets. Instead of focusing on what you hate about networking, focus on how you can spend time with and seek out kind of people you would like to have in your life. Make your networking opportunities work for you.

I’m going to have to agree with our mate Richard Reed and disagree with Mickey Corleone. Business is personal. To get any personal satisfaction out of your work and life, a big part of it is enjoying the people you have around you.

My take home message from all this is that we might all get stuck with a**holes now and then but you have more power than you think to seek out people you want to work with, and, better yet, you can usually work on it over a drink.

Kim Borrowdale is a freelance communications specialist and storyteller. She tells us she is not a natural networker but has learned to love seeking out positive new people to spend time with both professionally and personally.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.