How To Network With The Elephant In The Room - Proteus Leadership
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How To Network With The Elephant In The Room

Belonging to a networking group that meets regularly helps to establish and maintain relationships that can prosper for years. However, it’s almost inevitable, especially in the ways that these groups are structured, that you may wind up in networking situations with people that you simply just can’t stand to be around.

Drama or ‘bad blood’ can occur at any time whenever humans occupy the same space, but they’re even more likely in situations where wide varieties of people and personalities interact. By their very nature business networking meetings are included in these situations.

There are several reasons why you might wind up in a business networking situation with someone you’d rather not have encountered.

When a referral from one member to another has gone bad

The primary purpose of regular networking sessions is to develop close enough relationships between members of the group to refer business to one another.

In nearly every case, this is a win-win for the person getting the referral and for the one who gave it. However, in a small percentage of referrals, something has gone wrong, and what should have been a positive experience just goes south.

Then human nature kicks in and makes it even worse: People tend to talk about each other, not to each other. Suppose that Margaret gives Larry a referral and for some reason Larry did not deliver what he promised. What tends to happen is that Margaret then tells her friend Sam what an idiot Larry is, and how bad his service is – without ever going to Larry and talking to him to personally discover what went on and discuss how it could be fixed.

At best, this behaviour perpetuates the negative feelings – at worst, it exacerbates them.

In most cases like these, it turns out that there was actually nothing wrong with the referral – it was simply a matter of miscommunication!

The bottom line: Things sometimes go wrong, but don’t perpetuate the problem through lack of open, honest communication. If you take a few minutes to talk about it in a non-confrontational way, you’ll avoid making an awkward situation even worse.

A personal disagreement

Networking would be so much easier if people weren’t involved! But since they are, there is inevitably going to be a disagreement now and again. The solution to this is simple: Don’t focus on the problem; do focus on the solution.

If you only focus on the problem you become an expert at the problem – but you never come up with a solution to fix it.

When a member of a networking group has a disagreement with another member, it often leads to their obsessing with how much they don’t like the other person – about what is wrong with them. They become an expert at what is wrong with the person they disagreed with.

That’s not going to help anyone – not the members in the disagreement, and certainly not the other members of the group who have to listen to their drama at every meeting or get-together!

If you were to ask “Just how bad is this situation?” On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst, most of the time, the answer is 3-4.

If you were then to ask “Why is it so high?” They will look at you like you are crazy, and probably say something like, “But that is low!”

Sure, it’s not a 9 or a 10, but if you ask them, “What is good about the person you are in this disagreement with – to the point that you didn’t give them a 1 or a 2?” And most of the time, they will come up with more than one good thing about them!

Group leaders should encourage open, honest and direct communication between the two members.

This way, the members can deal with the problem, while also embracing the positive feelings that each member will almost always have in some form or another for the other, as building blocks for finding a solution to the issue.

If you can focus on the solutions rather than just the disagreement, you absolutely can get through most issues!

Networking with former partners or colleagues

Networking groups tend to attract like-minded people. Because of that, these groups often bring people together for more than just business. This can be a blessing – but it can quickly turn into a curse if the relationship ends with both members still in the same group!

While a break-up can lead to some awkward moments and feelings of discomfort when you have to face the person regularly in the days and weeks following the breakup – if the value of the network is high, it’s worth working through those feelings.

So, to put it bluntly: suck it up, and continue to network. Don’t lose your carefully built network of valuable referral sources, over a few days or weeks of discomfort at the most!

And remember – the more professional you remain throughout the breakup and in the time immediately following (by not talking badly about the other person, or bringing your personal situation into the business operations of the group), the more highly you will be viewed by the other members.

No matter what the particular details of the situation, the fact is that at some point almost everyone will face an awkward moment with someone else, so it’s probably going to happen to you.

It’s the ‘end game’ that you should be working toward, and that is growing your business. Don’t ever burn bridges with people in your group, because you never know – you might end up being friends and valued referral partners!

By Dr. Ivan Misner

Published with permission from the International Institute of Directors and Managers (IIDM) –


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

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