Sometimes it’s hard to say to say no.
I should know: 2015 was my year of no. I said no to everything from business networking events to meet-ups and conferences. I even said no to continuing to work out of a co-working space, as I was singularly focused on getting a book deal. This project required my undivided attention, so no it was.
Saying no at this juncture of my career was the right thing to do — but that has not always been the case. Saying no at other points in my life would have derailed me or even killed my career.
Knowing when (and when not to) say no are just two of the networking tips I provide in my guide to networking, “Build Your Dream Network” (TarcherPerigee). From Chapter 2: Get Your Head in the Networking Game, there’s this advice:
“Sometimes you’ve just got to put your foot down and say no — no to skipping an event because a client or colleague has announced a new project deadline, no to tagging along because a friend has said, “It will be fun. You should go.”
Here’s the key: understand why you’re saying no.
Goals are your why filter when you’re weighing which new networking event or relationship to pursue. By staying focused on where you’re headed, you’ll be able to figure out whether saying no will get you further ahead or is simply an excuse that’s holding you back.
Guesterly’s Rachel Hofstetter focuses her networking efforts by keeping both her long-term and shorter-term goals in mind. When she was getting ready to raise investment money, Rachel prioritized attending investor and start-up-focused events. At other times (such as when she was launching her online PR school or beta testing a new online feature), Rachel focused on expanding into new networking circles. When Rachel moved to a new city, she found herself attending every type of event she could, in order to meet people. Expanding her network was why she accepted every invitation and checked out every event, rather than turning them down. When she launched Guesterly into the wedding market (an industry where she previously knew no one), she attended every wedding-industry-related event she could find, in order to figure out exactly where she needed to focus her networking efforts.
We’ve all done it: tossed the embossed card in the trash or skipped clicking on the link sent via Eventbrite or deleted the Paperless Post invitation, without a second thought. Bombarded by requests, the natural knee-jerk response is often simply to say no.
But hold on! Are there networking events you should never say no to? Yes, these do exist, especially in the workplace. Universally saying you will never attend networking events at work is — not to be too dramatic here — career suicide. Never say no to opportunities to get to know your peers and colleagues.
Job pressures and competition keep too many of us in our cubicles from the moment we step off the elevator to the minute we dash to the train. One Wall Street investment banker I knew regularly ordered in pizza for his group, as a way to bring the team together. But this was no “free” lunch: pizza was ordered (and he happily paid for it each week) on the condition that no one could eat alone. It doesn’t take much to break down communication barriers and build team rapport. In twenty minutes you can accomplish more than consuming a slice or two of pizza — you can build relationships.
My friend Varelie Croes is a former director of international tax financial services at PricewaterhouseCoopers. During her eleven years at the firm, she organized many events and ran a number of different initiatives for one simple reason: it was a great way to meet people and connect with leadership in the firm. Varelie knows that her volunteer efforts expedited her career trajectory within PwC. Once colleagues worked with her on a project (even a voluntary one), Valerie noticed she was being requested for more projects and staffed on the best deals; plus she was invited to an increasing number of events typically limited to more senior leadership. Her participation also resulted in more external speaking opportunities, where her expertise (and PwC’s reputation) could really shine. Varelie’s promotion to director in 2003 was a “fast-tracked” one — an outcome she credits to the network she built within the firm.
Saying no to attending work-related networking events is like telling someone that keeping your head down and doing good work will get you ahead in the workplace or that salary increases are the result of good karma. Of course you need to be strategic and sometimes rather selective in which work-related networking events you choose to attend, but don’t apply a universal no to opportunities to share your knowledge with colleagues beyond the radius of your cubicle, or to being further informed of developments in your chosen profession.
There are many, many, many ways to limit your career opportunities; take “no to networking” off that list.”