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Most of us have been building relationships since we were in nursery school. Then, we played side-by-side with our best friend, shared crayons, but fought over Legos. In elementary school, we probably had a few close friends, and this likely continued on through high school, college, and afterwards.

building-business-relationshipsYet what I hear from clients and other business consultants is that it feels difficult to know how to build relationships within a business context.

Either we go to networking meetings, where we feel like we’re just shoving our cards at people we don’t know (or having that done to us.) We become wary of people who want to take us to lunch or coffee, fearing we might spend hours and hours and have nothing beneficial from these meetings. Similarly, we sometimes feel awkward when going to a conference or workshop where we don’t know anyone. It feels difficult to try and connect when everyone seems to be there with other people, and we’re not.

I went through that experience recently when I attended a conference in San Diego. I was looking forward to the event, and, also, a little bit nervous at the size of the conference (more than 3,000 people.) I was traveling there on my own, and feeling a bit apprehensive about how it would be to connect with new people.

What I found surprised me.

On the whole, people were very nice and very friendly. Most people there were open and easy to connect with. Yet, at the same time, after the initial “hello, and tell me about what you do, why you’re here?”, the conversations quickly shifted into a rapid assessment of “Who are you, and how can you help me?” – which ended up disrupting the flow of any possible relationship building.

In a way, such rapid assessments (and dismissals) feel efficient, but I question whether they are effective. Of course, there will always be people that you don’t click with or don’t like, or have nothing in common with. Yet, in many cases, I don’t know if you can know this in just a three minute conversation.

And I think this is what makes networking feel weird and strange. Most of us take longer to connect than just three minutes, but most networking contacts, especially at large events, tend to be three minutes or less.

I wonder about this.