Conversation vs. conversion — Do you hate networking?

“Everything good in life—a cool business, a great romance, a powerful social movement—begins with a conversation.”

That’s from Dan Pink’s book To Sell is Human. Notice what word does not appear in that quotation?


Conversation not conversionI used to hate networking with a passion. I always felt dirty, somehow, like I was trying to get something from people. That’s probably because I was. Every person I met had a neon sign hovering over them: “Prospect!”

I might still hate networking. It’s hard to know for sure, because I don’t do it anymore. Instead, I have conversations. And I no longer see “Prospects!” I see People.

So when I walk into a roomful of 900 businesswomen—as I did last week—I don’t get overwhelmed. I zero in on someone interesting and have a conversation.

A conversation, not a come-on

Usually, this works like a charm. Turns out People enjoy having a conversation, especially when they sense you’re not trying to sell them anything. Well, except for this one man at a tech conference last month…

He was wearing great glasses, so I said, “Hey, great glasses.”

What?” The way he jumped, you would think he’d just heard a ghost. Seriously. My friend Robyn was sitting right next to me—ask her.

I weighed my options: slink away in embarrassment or try a second time. I repeated my compliment

Clearly this flustered the poor man. His brain was not prepared to process compliments from a random female: Is she coming on to me? [Reader, I was not.] If she’s not coming on to me, why is she speaking? 

Talk to connect

That odd encounter aside, I still believe that talking to people remains the best way of connecting. Perhaps even better than writing

My conversations with People have not yet begun a great romance or a powerful social movement—Mr. Pink may have oversold that a little. But they have allowed me to connect with a range of interesting folks. Some of whom have found me interesting as well. Interesting enough to join my mailing list, where we can continue our conversation.

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