We recently had a competitor “crash” one of our exclusive, job seeker only networking events. As is our policy, when someone comes to one of our networking events fraudulently, we notify the other members of the event for their safety. We strongly recommend that no one network with a person who comes to an event under false pretenses. If they lied to us, they’ll lie to you, and could harm your network by their dishonesty. This brings up a vital point.
Your networking events are not private. They are not personal. They are not protected.
Anything you say and do in networking can be broadcast from the housetops. If you are a networking nerd….only concerned about yourself, blathering on about how great you are, not being helpful, and so on, this is public information. If you don’t follow through (or don’t even try to follow through) on promises, this is public information. If you are a very bad person and damage others by “IDKing” people on LinkedIn, this is very public information. If you are a fraud and come to networking events on false premises, this is very public information. And the rest of us who are honest and trying to network well have a responsibility to call out those who can cause damage to the networks of our networking partners, friends and clients.
We have a responsibility to network responsibly and well. We have a responsibility to respond to others in our community who want to network with us. We also have a responsibility to let others know about “poison people” so that they, too, are not harmed. Of course, be sure that your information is accurate (I had numerous reports regarding the person who crashed our event, as well as a business card with his company and title at that company on it). If you try to let others know about someone who is a good and responsible networker, and has helped many people, but got one bad report, telling others about that person will backfire on you. But we all have a responsibility to assure that others are not harmed by malicious, dishonest, rude, or just plain inconsiderate people in the networking community. So…here are a few important rules for networkers.
1). Be honest! The small “bump” you’ll get in your network by sneaking into somewhere you don’t belong will more than be offset by the negative “street” you’ll get when you’re found out. And you will be found out! Many other people feel as I do….that imposters and frauds should be exposed.
2). If you’re looking for a job, don’t blab about where you’re interviewing! Loose lips not only sink ships, but careers, as well. Don’t tell people where you’re interviewing. Don’t “follow” the company you’re interviewing with on LinkedIn unless you disconnect the ability for others to see your activity. Don’t give away secrets your career coach tells you. Don’t give away your best networking contacts unless you’re sure that these won’t be spread all over the city. And so on. Keep your cards close to your vest.
3). Return all calls within 72 hours and 48 hours is better.
4). Do what you say you’re going to do. If you promise someone something, follow through or explain why you cannot.
5). Be careful what you promise. Of course, you can’t be responsible for what people hear. People continually tell me that I should do things I never said I would or could do. This goes along with being well known. But, even so, promise carefully. I try very, very hard to keep, to the letter, every promise I make…and I promise carefully. I will always be clear that I will attempt to reach someone, not say that I will reach them. I will always be clear that I need the permission on the other side before giving out numbers, I don’t just give a number (unless I have previous permission to do so). And so on.
6). Don’t “trash” your network. Get permission before giving out contact information unless you’ve been told this is not necessary.
7). NEVER say “I don’t know” (IDK) someone on LinkedIn or similar things on other social networking sites. This is incredibly stupid and very rude.
8). Take meetings. If you’re networking you must be willing to take some meetings. I will meet with everyone who wants to meet with me….when I am able. It might be a month or two, but I NEVER turn down a networking meeting…even from a direct competitor (in fact, I want more competitors to contact me so I can refer any people who might be better served by them…check my profile…I have many competitors as contacts). I will always explain the situation to anyone who calls, and am very generous with my time. I hope I always can be so.
9). Don’t be a “no-show.” This is the kiss of death in networking.
10). Come down off of your high horse. You aren’t so important that you can’t meet with people. Nor are you so important that you cannot be courteous and giving. One person I knew, who was at the “C” Level, managed to anger my whole client group except one at the same time. He was so arrogant and unpleasant that I had client after client come and tell me about him. This kind of stuff gets around, folks!
11). Remember that nothing you say in networking is confidential, nor is anything you do. If you are rude, damaging, dangerous, or a networking nerd, others have a perfect right to tell other people about you. In fact, I believe they have a responsibility to do so.
If you are a member of a networking group, like Denver Executives in Transition (my LinkedIn Group…feel free to join!), The Art of Networking (Art Weest’s group), Andrew Hudson’s List , COFENG or other Networking groups on LinkedIn, you have a positive responsibility to those people to let them know about irresponsible, damaging, or rude folks. If LinkedIn gets more than one or two “IDKs,” about someone, they will restrict your ability to invite people, seriously damaging your ability to do on-line networking. By telling others, for example, about someone who “IDK’s” people, you are, potentially, saving someone innocent from being listed by LinkedIn as a bad character or “spammer.”
If someone has been dishonest with you, you have a positive obligation to let others know about this. Of course, be careful, make sure of your facts, and don’t “flame” someone throughout your network who has a great deal of influence. And make sure it is not just a business disagreement where either side could be right. But if someone has truly been dishonest with you, let your friends know.
One caveat on the above. If someone is very well connected throughout your town, don’t spread anything around about them, even if they are slimy. The reality is, that, unless many others have had that same experience, you will be the one who looks slimy, not them. You might let someone (like me, for example) who is very well connected throughout Denver know of your bad experience. If I can confirm that someone has, indeed, been dishonest with one of my networking contacts or friends, I can probably quietly make it known. Of course, if someone is that well known, you might want to rethink whether or not the person was really dishonest.
Some people will scream at you for doing this. Ignore these folks. You are perfectly within both your rights and responsibilities to expose those who are dishonest or dangerous.
The nefarious person you expose this way might threaten to sue you. Don’t worry. Stick to absolute truth and they can’t get anywhere. If an unscrupulous attorney tries, you can file a frivolous action suit against his or her malpractice and retire. But they won’t go there. And I’ve gotten a variety of attorney letters over the years threatening to sue me for this and that I’ve said in columns or to folks. Yeah, whatever. It never goes anywhere. Remember that there is still a First Amendment, no thanks to the past few administrations in Washington.
If someone says something false about you, you have the right to sue them for libel, although it is probably a waste of time. Some jerks will say nasty things about you over time. But be sure that you are behaving responsibly so that no one can, truthfully, say something nasty about you. Against true statements, no one has a leg to stand on.
And, finally, if you’ve done something stupid (see my article in CoBizMag on recovering from a faux pas), apologize at once before it gets out of hand. Once your faux pas is out there, it will go “viral.” Before it does, be humble, acknowledge what you did, and move on. If you do so, you’ll recover. If you bluster and threaten, it will just hurt your networking reputation and make you look like a complete fool.