Stockholm Syndrome: Networking is not working

The Local Sweden
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Stockholm Syndrome: Networking is not working

For years I have tried to convince Mrs Syndrome that, as a writer, when I'm gazing out of the window, I'm working. It doesn't satisfy her and if she doesn't hear fingers bashing away at a keyboard she will ask what I'm doing.


I tell her that if all she wanted was the sound of tapping then she should have married a woodpecker.

It's not that my lack of typing implies a lack of productivity, she responds - she just thinks I need the exercise.

And so the fun chez Syndrome goes on, until Mrs S points out the blindingly obvious fact that I Need To Get Out More.

I know, I know, I say. And what better time of the year to get out than now, just before Christmas, when, every evening, Stockholm's icy streets are warmed by the glow of a hundred networking events.

Stockholm is a city of fads, so much so that multinational corporations routinely test their products here, knowing that if they don't take off in Stockholm, they won't take off anywhere.

But not since Rubik's Cube has there been a fad more irritating, time-consuming and ultimately pointless than networking.

Looking for a job? You need to network. Not reaching your sales targets? Get networking. Need staff? Use your network.

As far as I'm concerned, networking is notworking. But nowadays, for ambitious Stockholmers, it is everything.

Networking experts are popping up all over the place, organising events, spreading business cards like reverse pickpockets, bringing people together. And it was at just such an occasion that I found myself on Monday night.

I was slightly peeved from the off, since it clashed with my Swedish class Christmas meal. My heart sank further as I arrived at the fancy bar where the event was being held. I downed a glass of glögg and steeled myself.

After the welcome speech from the host, who took the opportunity to plug her life coaching services, the circulation began.

And everyone pretends they know everyone else. Everyone smiles more broadly than is natural, talks more loudly than is polite and shakes hands more vigorously than is healthy.

A genuine conversation is impossible when all you're trying to do is work out if you can sell to or work for the person you're talking to - especially when they're doing the same. And when you both realise that there's nothing doing, it's a race to see who can get away first.

Perhaps I've just been embittered by my failure to achieve anything useful by networking. I have never left a networking event with a useful contact. I've never even been a useful contact for someone who met me at an event.

Maybe it's my own fault. Maybe I should spend more time talking to the networkers rather than the lad taking coats or the girl serving nibbles. Maybe I put people off with my grumpy attitude towards the whole shebang.

But I don't think so. Because when I mention this to people who move in similar circles - albeit carefully, with one hand clutching a glass of house white and the other smarting from a robust shaking - they quietly agree. With some relief, I've noticed, they admit that it's just something they do because, well, you know, you have to these days, don't you?

You have to hand it to the networking event organisers. What they've done is as clever as putting water in bottles and selling it for 17 kronor apiece. Except what they've packaged is what the rest of us would call 'talking to people'.

And in Stockholm they have the perfect market. Quite apart from the city's trend addiction, Swedes, as we all know, are not the most gregarious of people. So a structured two hour session, where it's OK to start a conversation with someone you don't know, is perfect.

As soon as I could I ducked out of the throng and made my way to the restaurant where our class was meeting for a Christmas meal. Dashing across Kungsträdgården I reflected on what a relief it would be just to sit down with some nice people for a normal chat after so much marketingspeak and self-promotion.

It turned out that most of the class had failed to show. Stefan, our former teacher, was there and he said this is normal. Garry, the American PhD student had cornered Rositza, our current Bulgarian Swedish teacher. Clearly I wasn't welcome there.

At the other end of the table, Russian Gregor, Greek Theo and Cuban Bobby were deep in conversation. Theo, apparently forgetting Sweden's ban on smoking in restaurants had brought along a fat cigar, which he fondled, unlit.

"Heeeejjjj!" he cried. "You made it!"

The others looked up and Gregor shifted over so I could squeeze in. Theo had already resumed his conspiratorial discussion with Bobby.

"These two," said Gregor. "They're networking."

There is no escape. Happy Christmas!

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Stockholm Syndrome will be back in the New Year.


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