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Unfriendly Networking

| Working | July 6, 2016

(I am new to consulting, but I quickly learn the ropes and am promoted twice within 18 months. At the time of this story, my department’s partner (the highest level in a firm that you can be; similar to how attorneys work) has left for another company, and things are not going well since he’d left. The following conversation is my performance discussion with two senior people, the partner who had replaced our old partner and the other an associate director.)

Senior #1: “So, [My Name], it’s that time of year again where we decide if you’re promotion material.”

Senior #2: “In the last partner meeting, we actually only received good feedback on your performance.”

Senior #1: “That’s right. Everybody spoke about how easy it is to work with you, you always deliver quality work on projects before deadline, you have great relationships with clients at all levels, and you always go the extra mile for colleagues and clients.”

Me: “Great, I’m glad to hear that. I’ve learnt a lot since I started and I do try my utmost not to repeat mistakes.”

Senior #2: “That’s good to hear. I guess work-wise there isn’t many issues that we can suggest you can improve on. You’re already exceeding expectations on everything.”

Senior #1: “Well, almost everything…”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What exactly should I be improving on? I prefer to get feedback so that I know what to fix.”

Senior #1: “Well, we noticed that you don’t really go to the canteen at lunchtime.”

Me: “Um… I’m sorry, what does that have to do with my work?”

Senior #2: “There’s a lot of senior people, especially the partners, who go to have lunch everyday, and it’s a perfect opportunity for you to network. But you’re not using that opportunity.”

Me: “Okay. Well, firstly, I generally don’t have lunch, so that’s why I hardly ever go to the canteen. Secondly, I don’t think the canteen is the best place to network. I’m a smoker, and I do a lot more networking on the smoker’s balcony. In fact, [Senior #2], just the other day I introduced you to that partner in [Other Department] because you were saying that you’d worked here for so many years and never actually met him.”

Senior #2: “Oh, um, well, but you could meet so many more people in the canteen. Not everybody is a smoker, but everyone eats.”

Senior #1: “Exactly! And you are missing out on great networking opportunities.”

Me: “So let me see if I understand this. I network on the smoker’s balcony, I network in the in-house pub two or three nights a week, I network at other departments’ functions, which we are all invited to, but I’m often the only one to go, and I network on multi-department projects. But you think I need to network more by going to the canteen, where people generally stick to their own groups from what I’ve seen.”

Senior #2: “Now you’re getting it, [My Name].”

Senior #1: “I suppose now’s a perfect time to share the great news. Despite this, you are being promoted!”

(Senior #1 and Senior #2 have huge smiles on their faces, as if they’re doing me the biggest favour in the world.)

Me: *with a sad smile* “Yeah, thanks.”

Senior #2: “Now, there’s something else we need to talk to you about. As I’m sure you know, senior management has recently been having issues with [My Best Friend, also a colleague], and we’re worried that your association with her may influence your work ethic.”

Me: “Excuse me? She is one of my closest friends, so of course I’m going to be ‘associated’ with her. I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say.”

Senior #1: “She has a knack for challenging authority, and we just don’t want you to follow the same path. You have a bright future here, and we don’t want it to be thrown away by mixing with the wrong people.”

Me: “Hang on. So you’re saying that if I continue my friendship with her, it will affect any future promotions for me?”

Senior #2: “That’s one way of putting it, I suppose. We just think that she might be a bad influence on you.”

Me: “I’m sorry; almost everything I’ve learnt in the consulting world has been through her experience and wisdom. She took me under her wing when I started and helped me to grow, as a person and professionally. I’m 26 years old, and my own mother can’t tell me who I should or shouldn’t be friends with, so thanks for the advice, but I’ll follow my own instincts. Thanks for the promotion, but I think this conversation is over.”

(With that, I left, very upset about my “back-handed” promotion. A few months after, my friend was retrenched. We figured it was their way of getting rid of her, because she challenged all the unethical things happening at senior level. I left not long after because my unhappiness there was making me physically ill. I found a smaller consulting firm, and have thrived since I left that poisonous environment.)

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