A recent conversation with a friend has led me into thinking about the difference between networks and friendships, and whether the two need to be mutually exclusive. I thought about people who only keep friends who they can ‘use’ as part of their network, and whether that was a bad thing. 

How do we make decisions on who we choose to be around socially? Those who are kind or perhaps entertaining to us? Or is it those who are popular, well connected and can boost us up in advancing our personal and professional goals?  

Both require meeting people, finding common interests and hoping the relationship will grow. However, networking builds rapport – you connect with others for advancing professional goals, whilst friendship is built upon more of a social connection.

These days, most people are looking to merge the two. Your friends are your networks, and it’s just a regular expectation that you’re with each other because whatever the other person offers, may be in your better interest.

I go to many networking events, and it took me a long time to feel accustomed to doing the whole business card exchange thing – it seemed impersonal and boring to me. I just liked meeting people and sharing stories.

Some people, were more business card collectors – they say hello, grab your business card and run like the wind. Some just want a photo with you.

That’s why my networking skills needs a lot more work. There’s just something about it that seems insincere, or perhaps I’m just not doing it right.

The idea of establishing a relationship with someone purely to advance your own career agenda sounds wrong.

I felt like I was being deceptive in some way.

But when I turned to my group of acquaintances and friends, asking them for favours and career advice also seemed deceptive, as if I was using them. So either way, I wasn’t able to ask others for help and the only person I was really hurting was myself.

One way to look at it is: when you need a reference, referral, work advice – a network of friends is exactly what you need. People who know you well enough to vouch for you, those who are willing to bend over backwards to help you out because they know you’d do the same.

However, this could create an expectation of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” where you’re basically just using each other. Is that what friendship is? Isn’t that supposed to be wrong?

If you’re around someone you dislike, just so that they can help you – then that’s an insincere friendship. They become more of a network: keep things cordial, and ask when you need something.

If you sincerely enjoy someone’s company and they just happen to be well connected and would be willing to help you if needed, then you’ve got a friendship with benefits. The only thing with that is that it could backfire, your friendship fades and you lose the benefits, and they become more of a network.

I suppose, what matters the most is your intention. If your intention is sincere to care for the other person and value them in your life, and not to keep them around just to use them, then you’re heading in the right direction.