Networking and the Wok Principle: Do It Like A Mongolian Grill

The key to HR and networking, like cooking on a wok, is to keep everything moving. (Photo by Dreamstime).

Have you ever been to a Mongolian grill? I have and I’m guessing they aren’t authentic but I do know that there is no tastier way to combine meat, veggies, and noodles for $10 than to put it on a Mongolian grill and cook it.

The whole key to making a tasty meal on a Mongolian style grill is to keep the food moving. If you’ve ever cooked with a wok, it is the same premise: keep every thing moving and it eventually heats up without getting scorching hot. When you do this, you can add all sorts of flammable materials (oils, sauces, etc…) and if you keep it moving around, it still ends up working out.

From all of the HR events and networking meetings I’ve attended, I’ve learned one thing: don’t get stuck in one place or you’re going to get scorched.

The wok principle

I’ve walked into several networking events where I’ve been latched onto by kind folks who just want to talk to you about what they’re doing. This is great but not when they’ve dominated the conversation (and the other conversations you could have been having) and you end up leaving with one business card (and a lifetime worth of stories about their last job, wife, etc…).

None of these people have been mean spirited about it, but they’ve been as insecure as I have been about networking in the past. Networking isn’t a joy for most people but it is a necessary skill needed to make it in the business world. So I have these folks walk with me to different groups of people talking. After a while, I keep walking and the person can keep coming with me or they can stay behind and chat.

What I’ve found is that these people either get the point and continue making the rounds or they latch on to someone else to tell them about what they are doing. If this seems a bit mean, it is. You have to decide if you’re okay with that.

Keep things sweet and spicy

When I’m meeting people, I always try to be gregarious and open to folks who want to talk. If I see someone trying to make a move into the conversation, I ask them to join us. You don’t get extra points for being sweet; that should be expected.

I’ve always tried to spice things up either by adding something to the conversation or encouraging others to add their two cents. Maybe it is in bad form but I always prefer a robust conversation to the same old “what are things like in your industry?” sort of talk. Get people talking about a controversial subject (either in the field or profession) and let things navigate from there.

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You’d be surprised how easy it is to get into that conversation, and an hour later, still be going around a different interesting subject.

Remember the little things

If you work for a recognizable company like Facebook or Microsoft, you may become “that Facebook guy” or “that Microsoft gal.” If you can associate a story with a person though, it can take a relationship to the next level. So if you remembered someone likes mountain biking and did some up at Whistler, and you heard of a course in Northern Idaho that would be great, that is something you can share.

I get called a “blogging guy” or “the ERE guy” all of the time. But if someone references my favorite basketball team (the Portland Trail Blazers for future reference) or a band I recently saw, there’s an instant connection there. Some of it is ego driven, sure. But some of it plays to the basic psychological makeup we have in all of us. We all react better when we feel people are paying attention to us. And that doesn’t mean we are rude or indifferent to the others, but it makes a difference.

I also know that I’m not a pro at networking. I will still get cornered or stuck in typical conversations. How have you achieved networking success or (maybe even more importantly) what doesn’t work?

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