Today's Post-Pandemic Version Of Networking Is BS, But Here's How To Revive Your Social Circle
Workin' Girl

Today's Post-Pandemic Version Of Networking Is BS, But Here's How To Revive Your Social Circle

Many things work-related have gotten more weird and annoying post-pandemic. From the awkward mental debates about whether to turn your camera on during Zoom meetings (I often don't), to those team members who still always seem to be disinterested, disgruntled, or mentally distracted, to reports of companies now gaslighting employees to come back to the office after they've raved about putting wellness first and allowing professionals to work remotely---several major aspects of everyday work culture have become a wacky hot mess.

And let's add "networking" to that wacky list.

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I absolutely love connecting with other women. It's something that fuels me and makes me feel like I'm not alone in the world, especially when it comes to the work that I do. Post-pandemic networking, though, has looked like a struggle.

It would take more fingers than I actually have to count how many times I've been ghosted, made to feel like a fool for giving energetic, down-to-earth vibes to the wrong snob, or been forced to simply make a choice not to waste my time due to a half-ass attempt to use me for a favor or hook up.

Research has shown that the pandemic did a number on our social circles and connections, with professional and personal networks decreasing by 16%, and while that might not seem like a large number, think about the fact that many of us only have three or less close friends and only 2 out of 10 adults have a work bestie. (Hey, maybe that's why most popular "girlfriends" shows like And Just Like That..., Run the World, and Harlem always cap at four friends, and even that's been in jeopardy with one always seeming to "move away" during the course of the shows.)

It's been more than three years after the whole world officially shut down and we're still struggling with being ghosted by current and potential friends, business contacts, and acquaintances. And this is concerning considering that social capital is vital for not only career success but overall life fulfillment.

How many of us have actually connected another young woman to someone else who they might learn and grow from or who they might be compatible with as a potential friend? How many of us have agreed to call someone (not text or send an IG DM) to have a conversation just because?

How many of us have gone to so-called networking events or conferences, smiled for the IG photo ops, shared our deepest desires, insecurities, and life stories, only to go home and never talk to one another again?

I find it strange that someone would literally have lunch with you, tell their whole life story, and give you their email address or phone number, only to never follow through on keeping in touch. Where they do that at? Maybe I'm old-school, but I don't waste time having hour-long personal conversations with folk if I genuinely don't want to connect or potentially become friends.

Well, if you're in the same boat as me, frustrated about how lame networking has become post-pandemic, here are a few tips that I'm going to challenge you (and myself) to do instead of letting bitterness and frustration win.

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1. If you're networking exclusively for business purposes, keep it real and stop treading the line between professional and personal.

I've never been a huge fan of networking in the traditional sense---a forced waste of time that oftentimes does not lead to authentic or long-lasting connections. You know that whole version of networking where someone walks up to you to ask you 50 questions centered on what you do, how long you've been doing it, and how they can work with you. Or worse, when someone skips the disingenuous pleasantries and simply shoves their resume, business pitch, or card in your face (whether verbally or on paper), and asks you for a job, favor, or to "partner up." (Sis, we don't even know one another.)

Get clear on the difference between networking and connecting. Every interaction with every human being at an event doesn't have to be about making money or what someone can do for you, but if that's your prime purpose for networking, be honest with yourself about that and get strategic in your approach and the types of events you attend.

In this case, instead of leading with that personal story about your family, something you're struggling with, gossip about others at the event, or your very personal life story, keep the interaction focused on professional aspects of why you do the work you do, how someone can contact you, and why it would even make sense to talk business with that person in the first place. If you don't have a why, do your research beforehand and be more strategic so that you don't send mixed messages or make a terrible first impression.

2. Be deliberate about making new connections and actually commit to doing your part to maintain authentic relationships.

Here's a hard truth: Many of us do not like telling people no. We have a hard time not only speaking up for ourselves as much as we should, but we also fear letting people down. Some of us just don't want to say no because we don't want to miss out on a potential opportunity, so we overextend ourselves.

It's one thing to cancel due to an emergency or to offer proper notice a few times when you can no longer show up. It's another to be that strange person who never does what she says she will when it comes to actually building a relationship---business or otherwise---with another woman.

Please, stop. It does more damage than good to say you're going to call someone, keep in touch, or schedule time with someone only to dodge them like they're a pesky ex or bill collector. Simply say no and stop inviting folk when you know you have no business doing so.

Check your calendar before inviting someone out or saying yes to meeting up with someone. Find out what the meeting will be about, and be sure you're actually interested in doing whatever the other person wants to do during that meet-up. Be clear on whether they're someone you actually want to know before saying yes.

And when you do say yes, have the discipline to follow through. Hey, we all get tired or overwhelmed, but we certainly show up for what's important to us regardless. That whole "I agreed on Monday, but now that it's Friday, I don't feel like it," is tired.

If you really want to revive your social life, make new connections, or you really value the friends and contacts you have, be deliberate about that follow-through and make it a habit. Evaluate how you're managing your time, what your values are, and goals are when it comes to your social life, and what makes you happy about having friends within your community or industry.

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3. Find other ways to connect and keep in touch that work for your busy schedule or lifestyle.

If it's a commitment to have lunch once a month, put it on your calendar and show up. Can't attend a wedding or a birthday dinner? Send a gift with a handwritten note or card. Want to hang out but don't like clubbing or drinking? Plan the next girls' night out (or in) and let your friends know how you feel (or maybe even find another set of friends to do things you like to do. I mean, maybe your idea of fun just isn't their cup of tea).

If you spent the whole conference weekend with someone, going to every panel or breakout session together and having drinks afterward, actually email, text, or call them when it's over and schedule a virtual tea or another way to connect again.

Send a card of congrats if you see them celebrate an accomplishment on IG or elsewhere. Get beyond just lurking on IG Stories after meeting them and try a personal gesture that says you want to be friends or at least that you're attempting to keep in touch.

Share events announcements, top news articles, or other useful information that reflects that you actually are thinking of a potential friend or contact and want to keep building. Support their events or businesses through action, not just a like on a post.

Ya'll, we have to put a stop to the way things are going with networking nowadays. There are major mental health, career advancement, and developmental benefits to being social, having friends, and interacting with your peers. Let's start making friendships and authentic professional connections a priority. Our long-term success as powerful Black women depends on it.

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