I’ve started to realize more and more that there are fundamentally two types of people in the business world: people people, and non-people people. Allow me to explain:
People people are those people who are genuinely interested in others – and the three dimensionality of their interests, their passions, their hobbies, their loves, their lives as human beings, and then there are those who are interested in others only as a means to advance their own agendas such as making a sale, finding a date, moving up in the company, etc.
I’m one of the former group – a people person, which, given my background as a mechanical engineer and software developer, is somewhat of an anomoly. When I was in engineering school, I served as a volunteer for the students’ union orientation committee where a group of us would “host” a group of out of town (rural) students for the weekend in the dormitories and tour them on campus, introduce them to cafeteria food, and provide information and lectures on the logistics of student life and university procedures. My engineering colleagues were astounded that I’d spend my free hours doing something so mundane as meeting and greeting new students – especially when it didn’t guarantee any favors on campus or increased grades. “Why would you bother spending a weekend touring around new students with those social science people only the students union?” they’d ask incredulously. No answer would resonate to their satisfaction – but the truth was that I simply enjoyed getting out of the engineering building, meeting the others on the orientation team, and meeting newcomers to the university. No reason other than expanding my own knowledge of cultures and people in general was why I volunteered. And, to my engineering buddies’ chagrin, it was fun!
Since those long bygone days, I’ve had many occasions where well meaning colleagues have suggested that I could better spend my time “courting” the higher-ups rather than the secretaries when I am at a social gathering. The truth is that networking to me is meeting and greeting everyone at an event – not just those who can advance my career. One co-worker asked me point blank a couple of years back why I would ever take the time to coordinate and arrange an “adhoc” dinner for people at a conference (i.e., anyone who wanted to go to dinner signed up on a sheet of paper and then we made reservations at a local restaurant) – especially when it might not lead directly to a new contract or offer of paid work. I was the one who was surprised by his question – I never realized that I should only talk to people who could provide me with a direct benefit.
Yet, I’ve come to realize that this separation of people types is incredibly common – even amongst those who are considered to be great networkers (those who can really “work” a roomful of strangers). Those who are non-people people will typically approach only those people who they have already researched beforehand, or who they might want to ask out on a date. I’ve witnessed this as recently as last week when I attended a major technology group event in my local area, and the head honcho (who happened to be a single guy in his 40’s) would only approach good-looking women to talk to. Those of us who had knowledge or could have advanced his career were second rate citizens to this guy. Yet there were others in similar positions who took the time to approach everyone equally and talk to each person who attended the event (which was to solicit volunteers for upcoming school programs). Those who were truly interested in other people were the ones who I found the most interesting at the gathering, yet I am quite sure that both types (as opposed to those who don’t go to networking events at all) do quite well despite their interest in people.
I, for one, just find it incredibly interesting to learn that there are so many truly different people one can meet by simply being interested. To me, the most interesting people I meet are interested in people. Maybe it’s true what they say after all – we tend to like people who are most like ourselves. So is it any wonder that people people like people people?