Networking Faux Pas: “How Can I Help You?”

I’ve been asked to give a speech at a local outplacement service company on the ins and outs of social networking. So, I had this brilliant post all ready to go, just waiting for an accompanying short video to be rendered, and here Kasia Gola has gone and beaten me to the punch! Oh well, I’ve been trying to get shorter posts anyway.

In general, I like networking. I really do. I thrive in social environments, and love meeting people. I’m often fascinated by the types of people I meet, as well as the paths their lives have taken, driven by their passion and personal choices.

There’s been a trend that’s been bugging the living hell out of me though. It’s enough so that I just had to make a short movie (1 minute) about it:

Me: “Hi, I’m J.”

Them: “Hi, I’m <name>. What do you do, J, and how can I help you?”

Now, I understand exactly why people do this. They go to networking meetings and want to show that it’s not “all about them.” Someone told them once that they had to express an interest in other people, and what better way than to show that you’re willing to help them?

Right? Right??

Now, I’m an overachieving workaholic. I’ve come to grips with this, and am comfortable with that obvious flaw in my personality.

What I don’t need is someone I’ve just met to:

  • Assume I’m helpless
  • Assume that what I need is so trivial that a complete stranger could fix it
  • Place an additional burden on me (now I have to figure out how you can help me? I just met you!)

It’s insulting, it’s also just. Plain. Dumb.

99% of the time the kind of help that can be provided does not match up with the needs of the person being asked. The only way that percentage improves is once you get to know the person beyond the first ten seconds.

As Kasia pointed out, networking groups are successful because helping others is a bedrock of the medium of interpersonal communication.

But it doesn’t work when “helping” someone merely allows you to spout off unsolicited advice, forces them to guess at what it is that you are useful for, or you use it as a way of making yourself feel better about yourself.

BTW, I’ve been experimenting with different responses to the question “How can I help you?”:

  1. You can’t.” (snorting beforehand adds impact)
  2. (asked suspiciously) “Why do you ask?”
  3. “Oh, please! You?” (chortles of laughter afterwards, followed by random snickering within earshot as the room is worked throughout the night)
  4. (Defensive) “What makes you think I need help? Do I look pathetic to you? How… DARE… you!” Really draw out the pause before the “dare”. More impactful.

I’m just toying with these ideas at the moment, but am wide open to additional suggestions…