Don’t Confuse Networking Events and Singles Events
Why you shouldn’t be thinking about hooking up when you’re making business contacts
When you spend such a large portion of your life at work and in a professional setting, it seems that if you’re single and looking, meeting a romantic partner during business hours is inevitable. While I’m a firm believer in organic connections, business settings are not the place to foster those connections. At least, not right out of the gate.
As networking meetings have shifted from early coffee to evening happy hours, the overall tone of these events has changed dramatically. They have gotten more casual and social, and as a result, a little more friendly. We don’t just present ourselves with our professional biography, we let our hair down a little bit and show our human side as well.
We use the opportunity to connect and find common ground with people, but what I’ve started to see more recently is that happy hour events feel more like hitting the bar on a Saturday night. Everyone is looking to connect—but they are interested in making the wrong kind of connection, and a line inevitably ends up getting crossed.
Recently, I attended a closing night party for an annual weeklong event that happens in Denver. We had spent the week attending sessions and learning more about the industries we are currently in (or maybe more about industries we want to be in) and we gathered at the end to celebrate.
As all of us waited in line to redeem our free cocktails at the bar, we began to commiserate with each other about how long it was taking and whether or not the wait would be worth it. We problem solved as a team. You three go wait in line for food, we’ll hang back and wait for drinks here. Divide and conquer.
I got to chatting with a nice young man who had recently relocated and had attended the event to make connections and find a job. He tagged along with our group and joined in the conversations. As the night wore on and the drinks went down, his demeanor changed from professional to more friendly.
And then, it got a little too friendly.
As I was sitting next to him in conversation with someone else, he ran a hand up my leg under the table. After firmly pushing his hand away and saying, “don’t,” he waited a beat and then repeated his offense. I excused myself and left the event. His actions ruined the entire night for me.
Sadly, that’s not the first time something along those lines has happened to me. I’ve had a vendor rep think it was appropriate to try to kiss me and grab my butt. I’ve had a business meetup turn into being asked out on a date. I’ve watched girls flash their boobs and men try to rally the troops for an outing to the strip club at business conferences.
Lowered inhibitions are certainly a result of the free-flowing alcohol that is prevalent at these events, but it’s not an excuse. If an open bar means that you can no longer maintain your professional demeanor, then perhaps these events aren’t the right way for you to connect.
This is becoming more common, specifically in the MarTech industry. Perhaps it’s the culture of fun that we are working so hard to create, or it’s just that the line between business and pleasure is getting increasingly blurred. We like to do business with people we like, and it only seems natural that personal relationships blossom from business transactions. Maybe it’s not even a new thing, I’m just more sensitive to it because it is happening to me with more regularity.
I don’t intend to come off sounding like a total prude. I definitely have built personal relationships with my business colleagues. But it’s important to remember that there’s a time and a place to cross that line. Your first time meeting someone at a networking event is not it.
When you’re at a professional event, it’s helpful to employ a simple rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t do it at the office, you shouldn’t do it at a networking event.