This question was put to me recently. My response was emphatic: “No, of course not!”
Here’s why I say this with such conviction. My definition of networking is:
The purpose of networking is to connect people who have a mutual interest in developing a professional relationship or assisting one another.
I strongly believe that “mutual interest” is a key ingredient to successful networking. Think about it: if a business connection asks you for a favor and you don’t like that person, how willing are you to grant the favor?
Having said that, I’m not advocating being rude to someone. You should always reply to someone’s email inquiry or return phone calls. But, if after investing time with someone, if you don’t feel that interpersonal chemistry, move on. It’s not really fair to the other party if you’re acting strictly from a sense of obligation.
Might it be awkward? You bet; especially if the other person seems to “feel the love” more strongly than you do. Saying “yes” to the continued requests of someone you don’t like may seem like taking the easy way out, (after all, it’s only a meeting for coffee!) but you’re only making thing more difficult in the long run.
“But, wait!” you say. “What if the person I want to network is sort of a creep but he’s really, really well-connected? I can tolerate a bit of ‘ick’ factor in order to have access to this person’s connections.”
My advice to you: don’t do it. In my opinion, if you give up the mutuality, you’ve traded away something far more valuable than business connections: your integrity. If you use the measuring stick of mutuality as a guide to your networking interactions, you’ll steer clear of that nagging feeling that you might be using someone. Think of it this way: saying “no” to a person that isn’t a good fit ensures that you’ll be available for a new connection that will be.
photo credit: istockphoto.com