Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

Some people love networking.

It feeds into their penchant for small talk. It moves them to wonder how many business cards they can collect per hour.

In fact, they love working a room far more than they love working.

What if you're not one of those people? Moreover, what if, as you clutch your glass of warm, uninviting Yellowtail, you espy someone who could make a real difference to your business?

He or she might end up as a client or simply be an important person to know.

Do you go up to them and gush about how much of an, oh, admirer you are?

Or don't you have to courage to wander over and casually engage in chit-chat?

What if, for some unaccountable reason, this person starts talking to you? How do you respond?

Dave Kerpen, founder of social media software company Likable Local, believes there's one question you should ask that really gets results.

No, it's not: "Where did you get those shoes?"

Neither is it: "Do you realize how great I am?"

Instead, in his book The Art of PeopleKerpen recommends that you ask: "How can I help you?"

The desired result, apparently, is either that the important person will literally tell you how you can be of help, or that this person will "decline politely, probably because she doesn't know how you can help her, but will feel that you care and feel connected to you and be much more emotionally invested in helping you eventually."

Kerpen told Business Insider that in 10 percent of instances, people actually take him up on his offer.

In any case, he believes it creates an emotional connection and that the only potential problem is that people may not believe you really want to help.

I worry.

Networking is such a venal business. Everyone seems to be there to get something, rather than give.

It's as if hundreds of children were put inside a room and told that there's at least one person in there who's really Santa Claus.

I fancy that if someone came up to me and asked, "How can I help you?" I'd think she was either (not very) subtly commenting on my poor dress sense or the pained look in my eyes, or was straight out of a peculiar clothing-optional spiritual retreat in northern California.

My overpowering tinge of doubt about this strategy for the normal human being is that "How can I help you?" is really about I, not you.

It's like walking up to someone and saying: "I'm great. You may not realize it yet, but let me help you realize how great I am. Think of something you need and the great I will deliver it for you. For a fee, of course."

It might end up sounding selfishly sanctimonious. It might reek of a gushing false modesty that's only challenged by those who receive some vast award and claim to be "humbled" by it.

You try feeling humble when your head is swelling so much that your ears are butting up against the walls.

But what is the alternative? Perhaps everyone has some sort of strategy at these things.

There's the attempt at subtle eye contact that can border on the arrestable.

There are the opening lines that sound like awful pickup lines. ("Hi, I'm Lance and what do you do?")

Ultimately, perhaps Kerpen can make "How can I help you?" sound natural and friendly, rather than like a tagline from a late-night QVC commercial.

It's the tone that matters, in fact, more than any words.

Humans crave something that isn't fake, something that actually smells of a genuine attempt at connection. It isn't exactly easy or formulaic.

Just look at the vast amounts of discomfort in half the world's bars late on a Friday night.

My own favorite opening question at a networking event was when someone walked up to a terribly important person and said: "D'you think the wine here is as crappy as I do?"

Published on: Mar 9, 2016