I don’t usually use bad language. Of course, every once in a while I slip up just like you.

But not in this case.

This time the language came from an MBA student I was meeting with last week who had a bad impression about networking. Not social networking where we hang out online and swap visual spit with our friends.

That’s different.

He was referring to in-person networking. A lot of people (many in the younger age brackets) are absent from the networking scene because they share this sentiment:

Networking means kissing someone’s ass.”

So before I outright dismiss this statement as utterly false, let’s see if there’s any truth in it.

Does networking = ass kissing?

Well, first, let’s examine the phrase “ass-kisser” via the The Free Dictionary:

There are a lot of fun words in that definition. So based on them, here are some practical questions to ask yourself when networking:

Is my goal to make someone feel more important than they are?

Hmmm. This is an interesting one. I guess it depends on how you look at it. Sometimes if we meet someone who is down or having a bad week, this might make sense. To build them up. If someone seems OK and, in fact, highly confident then no. That’s not networking at all. Networking successfully includes establishing a level playing field with someone. It extends the conversation by allowing people to see more in common with you.

Is my goal in networking to gain personal advantage?

Well, yes. While some go out to network with the sole purpose of helping others, most people are out to gain some advantage. This might include job leads, new customers, brand awareness, social credibility or connections to target companies. Would you say this qualifies as personal advantage? I would. But I also think that’s OK as long as our overall goal for networking is broader.

Do I need to humble myself when networking?

Well. it’s never a good sign to see someone on bended knee at a Starbucks or industry event. But, no, I don’t think you have to humble yourself when networking. If you are out of work, you are already pre-humbled to some extent. But there are people who still believe they still have the big chair and don’t act quite right.They aren’t very friendly. They act bigger than they should and push others away. So there are some who might just need to bring their ego down a notch or two.

Should I display a lack of self-respect when in the networking arms of another?

Uh no. While I recommend you let people know when you need help (practice naked networking), you need to stay confident and display a positive attitude even if you are having a tough week. Building up someone else through the tearing down of your own abilities is dumb. And people will see through it quickly.

Do I need to use flattery to get ahead?

While you can certainly make people smile by highlighting positive things in others, it’s not a necessary practice in the in-person networking world. I don’t need you to tell me how great my job search books are or how wonderful my presentation was earlier in the day. I won’t hate you for it, of course. :-)

But I’d like you to be more substantive as a networking friend. And combine any flattery with enough information about you that I can better understand your unique contributions to the world.

Should I try to be extra good in front of others (especially new people)?

So the common advice is to be yourself. But just like at Sunday dinner with the new girlfriend’s parents, yes you can dress up a little nicer and show off some of those basic manners you remember. It’s not brown-nosing to be respectful.

There’s a lot you need to know about networking with a stranger (one of my favorite posts).

What’s your answer to this question: Does Networking Mean Kissing Someone’s Ass?

Will you help me answer it?

Thanks amberdegrace for the photo via Flickr