Business Relationships Outside of Work

Meetups are one of the wonderful fruits of the internet age that contradict common wisdom about the social impact of making connections via online communities. Thanks to the internet, birds of a feather may find one another and flock together.

Some Meetups are built for the purpose of business networking, and while some are entrepreneurial, career-focused, or industry-centered, most Meetups offer gathering opportunities without a specific focus on “networking.” Some may view these Meetups to be “non-networking,” but careerists are quick to point out that if you are building relationships, there is nothing to distinguish between that and “networking.”

The distinction in many people’s minds has to do with that business card. The card is an object that strikes different people in different ways. Some view it like an advertising piece, something they must distribute to as wide an audience as possible. At the other end of the spectrum the business card is withheld unless requested.

Proper networking etiquette depends greatly on your environment. If your environment is one in which distribution of business cards is a high expectation, then you may feel free to distribute your card without any offense.

If you are at a Meetup event not set up for the purpose of networking, do not distribute a card–just have them in case. Keep yourself tuned in to the purpose of the group and the contributions of others. If someone happens to ask you for a card, be responsive. Otherwise keep the focus on others.

With that simple rubric in mind, here are some ideas you can use to leverage a non- business- networking Meetup if you’re looking to build your network:

Before the Meetup begins:

  • Bring business cards. Have them available just in case.
  • Show up 15-20 minutes early. Chat with other people who also show up early.
  • Have a question or two ready that can help you depart from the standard “So, what do you do?” Maybe try out something like one of these:http://www.geekwire.c…­ or https://www.linkedin….­

During the Meetup:

  • Wear a nametag with your name printed clearly and large enough for folks to see across the room. (Avoid ballpoint pens for name tags.)
  • Continuously introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Amy.” Shake hands. Smile.  Years ago your dad told you, “He’s more scared of you than you are of him.” Remember that? Same goes for the folks you’re meeting. Do what you can to put them at ease.
  • If you have your business cards with you and are seated at a table, you can place them for convenience on the table in front of you. Folks will see them and know they’re available, so they can ask if they want one.
  • Participate in the conversations. A quick mantra to keep in mind is “Step up and step back.”  Express your perspective but also practice being fully present so you can listen. Listen, but also express your perspective with intention and respect.

After the Meetup:

  • Reconnect with anyone whose thinking and self-expressions resonated for you. Tell them you’re glad they came. Ask them if they have a business card. Tell them you look forward to chatting again.
  • If someone gives you their card, consider inviting them to join you for coffee.
  • Send them a note before the next Meetup letting them know you’ll be there and indicating your hope to chat with them again.

This approach honors five anxiety triggers that were outlined by David Rock in the book Your Brain at Work (as well as Rock, D. & Cox, Christine. SCARF® in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. NeuroLeadership Journal. No. 4. Available at

The SCARF model looks like this:


And the words are defined as:

  • Status – We want others to notice what’s good about us.
  • Certainty – We want to know what others expect of us.
  • Autonomy – We want others to let us make our own decisions.
  • Relatedness – We want to connect with others on a human level.
  • Fairness – We want to treat others and be treated fairly.

Each of these are triggers that can affect how we feel. A loss in any of these five categories can cause anxiety and thus push us away, because it creates a sense of threat. A gain in any of these categories is experienced as a reward, and thus draws us closer.

For an example, let’s take the gift of a business card. Sometimes when you hand over your business card, that can be seen as a threat. Let’s look closer at why that might be.

Status: Volunteering a card can be seen as an act of dominance. Requesting a card and responding to that request, however, evens out the status exchange. The request or invitation to be given a card is both dominant and submissive.

Certainty: If both parties are habitual business networkers, the level of certainty on both sides is high. I know what to do with your card, and I know what you’re likely to do with mine. However, someone new to networking may not feel certain. What am I supposed to do with this card? Does it mean I’m going to buy from you? Call you? Email you? If we wait until someone asks for a card, we are avoiding triggering someone’s uncertainty.

Autonomy in this situation is closely related to Certainty. If you’ve handed me a card and I don’t know what is expected of me, I may presume there’s an obligation on my part to connect with you again, to hire you or buy you lunch. Obligations are a heavy load for a card to carry. What you can do for yourself when you are handed a card is to ask the giver what they are hoping for.

It is in Relatedness that we see the business card’s strength. If a connection is made, the business card facilitates ongoing relationship-building. (A physical card also serves as a reminder.)

The Fairness of exchanging business cards may be a small issue. If a loss of fairness exists, I believe it’s in the certainty-autonomy factors. “You’ve given me your card–that I didn’t ask for–and now I feel obligated. It isn’t fair for you to obligate me out of nowhere!”

Note that not all of these issues apply equally to every situation, and not every person values them equally. I may find fairness to be a nonissue and autonomy to be the most important, where someone else might value certainty over everything else and find “status” silly to be aware of.

Bottom line, there’s a lot going on when we meet people. Awareness of the SCARF model can help us understand ourselves and those dynamics, and once we understand them we can make adjustments appropriately. Plus, as a neuroscientific model, it serves as a great conversation starter!

How does this resonate with your own experience? Do you feel I’m off base about anything, or does this explain something you’ve been experiencing? Let me know in the comments section below!


Career Leadership Alignment offers coaching for how to be rather than what to do–supporting you in change from the inside out. Ignite the passions and unleash the natural powers that drive high performance in their teams!

Amy Kay Watson is a specialist in leadership development as well as cultural and personal transformation. Working with thousands of professionals across North America, Amy has helped individuals and companies re-think organizational culture while implementing effective change. She focuses on leadership, culture, and employee engagement.

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