What Flirting Taught me About Networking

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by Roth Herrlinger

I was talking with a colleague last week, and when she asked about my being a musician (which, I’ve found, is relatively unusual for a business consultant), I heard myself reply, “You know, you can type my name into Pandora if you want to hear my music...” She immediately perked up – and I knew she would. I knew that my music being on Pandora would make me “special.” It would raise my clout in her eyes.

It seems harmless enough, a way to call attention to myself and show what an interesting guy I am. We all do it at times – when we’re flirting, when we’re meeting someone in a business context for the first time, when we’re trying to make an impression. It’s like I’m baiting a hook and tossing it into the water to see if they’ll bite. If they do, I’ve demonstrated my worth, and I think I’m more likely to get the date, or the business deal, or whatever I’m going after.

How’s it working?:

But when I really look at the results I get, what I’ve found is this type of “flirting” actually distances me from the other person rather than drawing us closer. It’s like I’m saying, “Look what I can do that everyone else can’t.” Bang – door closed. There’s really nowhere for our conversation to go from there.

So if this closes the door, why on earth would I ever do it? Because I so often fall into the frame of reference that what makes me special is what I do – not who I am. I didn’t create connection with my colleague when I answered that she could hear my music on Pandora – all I did was attempt to demonstrate my “value”. I didn’t offer her anything about who I really am as a person, and I definitely didn’t create a space for her to share anything about herself.

We all know the difference – we can feel it instantly. Am I saying what I’m saying in order to create an authentic link with someone, or to call attention to myself? Genuine connection, in my experience, is created when we share something vulnerable, and seek to create a safe space where others can do the same.

Open the door:

How, then, might I have replied to this woman, in order to create genuine rapport? Well, I might have said something like, “You know, my parents started me on piano lessons when I was a kid, and it really stuck with me. I drifted away from music in my twenties, but when I had a time of personal crisis in my mid-thirties, I discovered, to my surprise, that I had somehow unexpectedly developed my own musical voice. I began to love composing my own music, and thanks to streaming music sites, I’m now continually amazed to hear from people all over the world who are listening to my music. I find playing piano is not only tremendously fulfilling – it also seems to balance me in a way that’s pretty remarkable, and I believe makes me a better businessman. You know – something that’s absolutely not about business, which makes me better at business. What do you do? Do you have an art you love, or a sport that gets you out of your head and into your body – some way you step away from your business mind and get a fresh perspective?”

Okay, so that’s a lot of words… but I just timed it, and it only took 45 seconds to say, so it’s probably not so long a response that it would lose my listener and jeopardize the prospect of building a relationship.

And what did I do in it? I revealed some things about myself that she can probably relate to (learning something as a child… drifting in early adulthood… a crisis that revealed unexpected gifts… and the benefits I’ve found of not solely inhabiting my mind), and I set her up to tell me about herself at a deeper level.

There’s nothing to prove:

I can only feel confident in doing this if I believe I don’t need to prove myself to her. Then, and only then, can I become truly curious – from an authentic and undefended place in me – about who she is, what makes her unique, what she cares about.

Where, in your efforts to show what a clever, capable, powerful, reliable, sexy, fill-in-the-blank person you are, are you actually creating distance when you think you’re going for closeness? What if you knew beyond any doubt that you were those things in spades, and you never needed to prove anything to anyone? Here’s the secret: you are, and you don’t.

Don’t believe me? Try it on for a day. Pretend someone waved a wand and for the next 24 hours you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. How does that feel? Lighter shoulders? Relaxed brow? Spine a little straighter?

Now, how will your conversations be different today?