Effective Networking (Make Mistakes)

by Darius Kazemi on April 19, 2007

in networking

A lot of people that I meet when I’m giving networking talks at conferences just kind of assume that I am so good at networking that I never look like an awkward fool.

The thing is, I look like an awkward fool often. Way more often than I’d like. However, it’s an occupational hazard that networkers have to live with.

I make mistakes all the time. Horribly socially awkward mistakes. I say things to people and then kick myself for it. I insult people without meaning to. Sometimes I forget people’s names (although thanks to my note taking, it’s pretty rare).

Here’s an example. When I was at GDC last month, I made the same mistake on two separate occassions. I walked up to some people I knew and said hello. They gave me an uncharacteristically brief hello and then ignored me. So I stuck around for about 5 seconds. Then they uncomfortably stared at me. Oh crap, I thought, they’re in the middle of a business meeting and I’m interrupting. Just thoroughly embarrassing. I apologized profusely and let them be.

However, there are three things to note about that instance of failure. First, they were in a public space where people were just hanging around, so it’s not like I barged into a private meeting room. Second, I caught on after 5 seconds, so it wasn’t that bad. Third, I apologized as soon as I figured it out.

Make a mistake. Know enough to know you made a mistake. Then salvage what you can and move on.

Last but not least: DON’T SWEAT IT. It’s not worth losing sleep over an honest mistake, especially if you caught yourself and just apologized on the spot. If anything, the person you accidentally slighted will be impressed at your willingness to own up to your own idiocy.

Anyway, it’s important to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and don’t repeat them too often. In fact, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. The networker who never looks stupid is the networker who walks up to people and says, “Hey, how about that weather? Okay, great to see you again, bye.” It’s completely socially acceptable, and completely forgettable.

It also gets easier over time. The first time you go to an industry event and screw up royally, you’ll probably lose sleep over it. Oh no, you’ll think, that game developer probably thinks I’m an idiot now. Then each successive time you mess up you’ll care about it less and less. This is partly because your networking success rate is increasing, but also because you just get used to being a doofus every now and then. It builds character, and makes you a better, more patient, and more understanding person.


Craig Perko April 19, 2007 at 3:13 am

The rule for learning how to play go is simple: play (lose) your first hundred games as quickly as possible. You’ll suck, but study won’t help you learn the very basics.

I imagine this is very similar. Eventually a beginner will stop making the stupid beginner’s mistakes.

Then they can move on to the more advanced mistakes!

Cait April 19, 2007 at 5:14 am

I went to my first GDC this year, and I definitely had some awkward moments while networking, mostly involving me feeling intimidated and blushing uncontrollably. Definitely makes me feel better that such an experienced networker can still make mistakes. :)

Patrick April 19, 2007 at 5:40 am

You can also craft your social awkwardness into a consistent character pattern that will make people remember with some endeared psuedo-fondness (and if you have honest game development talent, you probably have some awkwardness). Its kinda like level design, if you really think about it.

Bradley Momberger April 20, 2007 at 5:28 am

Severely off topic, but I — and a number of people who have proven their opinions to be of merit –don’t necessarily agree with Craig’s characterization of being a go novice.

I don’t think I’ve even played 100 games yet (and definitely not 100 games on 19×19) and some of the most common advice I’ve gotten is “don’t play so fast.”

Speed playing is actually a carrot model. It helps players establish good patterns and flow but it does not prevent players from making weak or worthless moves. Interestingly, my own observation is that more time in a professional match is taken to ensure that the obvious move is the best move than for any other purpose.

I think that this part of learning go actually applies to networking. Proacting without spending any time thinking about what you want to say helps you to establish good patterns, but the space of situations in networking is just too large to have a pattern for everything. You’ll still make mistakes, but you’ll do better because you’re avoiding the dreaded uncomfortable silence AND you’re not prolonging network time with busy people.

Darren Torpey April 22, 2007 at 5:12 am

I remember those “mistakes”, though, and at least on one occasion you were far from clueless: the business meeting was happening in a *very* public place that was designed for informal discussion. They just happened to be doing their business there. If anything, I’d lean on the side of saying they were the ones being socially awkward or at least that they were the ones more out of place.

The point, if there is one, is that it also helps to remember that these people who you’re afraid might think less of you are also imperfect and also feel awkward and unsure about how to behave in some situations at GDC.

(and speaking of owning up to your mistakes, it’s worth noting that Greg Costikyan set a good example of this advice when he admitted that he unintentionally killed your chance for a conversation when you first met due to his own social-behavior imperfections)

Max Nichols June 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Here’s some food for thought:

An important skill for a game developer (or anyone, really) is to be able to recover from a set-back, preferably with a measure of grace and acceptance. A mistake is a setback, but if you handle it properly – with aplomb, an apology, what have you – you can turn it around into a chance to show that you are quick on your feet. socially sensitive, and probably good to work with.

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