Networking events – isn’t that your favorite way to spend a Tuesday evening, or a Thursday lunch? I go to industry-related networking events or broad business development-related workshops at least a few times a month. Navigating these events can occasionally be awkward, and strange- because, of course, it’s usually a roomful of strangers.

At an event last week, I started to speak with someone, and I could almost pinpoint the exact moment that they decided I wasn’t in their industry. I think they had come to this event with a goal in mind: a certain type of contact in a certain role, who they wanted as a client. TL;DR, I wasn’t it.

I don’t take those things personally, but I have been thinking about that short conversation. It reflects a sort of mentality that I see in business development: “this is my industry, and this is where my leads are, and this is where I stay”. I know I am occasionally guilty of it myself.

But do we network with job titles, or do we network with people?

I’m wary of becoming preachy, but I will say this: the more I grow my business, the more I’m starting to believe that no one is outside my industry. There are people with whom I form a connection, and, at first glance, they may or may not be related to my business. But they come with original ideas about how to run a business that I can learn from, and suggestions of books I should read. They come with interesting, engaging conversation. They come with funny jokes that break through the uptight professional sheen. And they also may come with a partner who is passionate as hell about the industry I’m in, or a neighbor who has been complaining for weeks about needing the exact same service that I provide.

I can’t know what will happen, walking into a conversation at a networking luncheon. The whole point is to open yourself up to a serendipitous meeting that wouldn’t otherwise take place. Yes, my elevator pitch may fall on deaf ears. Or, we may find an incredible chance for us to collaborate. But we won’t know until we try to look past what the name tag says and get to know the person behind it.