Assumptions can cost you business.

I believe that one of the problems in understanding this concept is a somewhat built-in bias that many people have about networking with individuals that are outside their normal frame of reference. A good friend of mine in Boston, I’ll call her Pam, once told me an amazing story that illustrates this point perfectly.

Pam ran dozens of networking groups in the Boston area. One day, she visited a group that met in a private meeting room at Fenway Park. She arrived a little early to the meeting and noticed an older gentleman setting up coffee mugs in preparation for the meeting.

Pam is a consummate networker, and she also has the talent of being able to strike up an engaging and productive conversation with just about anyone. True to form, she struck up a conversation with the man while waiting for the members of the group to arrive. In talking to him, she was really taken by the amazing sound of his voice. She mentioned to him that he had an incredible speaking voice and asked what he did before this. He informed her that he used to be a commentator for CNN!

He went on to tell her that in his later years, he wanted to work in a less hectic job and also live closer to his daughter. He decided to take on the job of managing the owner’s suite at Fenway Park in Boston, because it gave him an opportunity to be close to his family while having a less hectic career later in life.

Pam asked him about some of the people that he met during his time in broadcasting. He shared many great stories with her, including an interview with JKF a week before he was assassinated. He also talked about meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. It was an interesting – no, a fascinating – conversation that she genuinely enjoyed.

Later, when the meeting was in full swing, one of the regular members, I’ll call him Dave, mentioned that he would really like to do a radio talk show someday and was looking for some contacts that could help him pursue this dream, as he was having very little success breaking into such a tough business.

After the meeting, Pam asked Dave, ”Do you see that guy over there [pointing to the ex-CNN commentator]? Have you seen him before?” “Yeah,” said Dave, “He’s the guy who sets up the coffee for our meeting.” Pam said to Dave, “Did you know that he used to be a broadcaster for CNN?” Dave said, “Are you kidding?! No way! I had no idea!!!”

Pam suggested that Dave introduce himself and learn a little about the man he had seen every week for the last several months, because this man that Dave thought was “just a coffee server” may very well be able to make a connection for him in the broadcasting industry.

Dave had seen the man on many occasions, but had not struck up a conversation with him because he assumed that they had little, if anything, in common. The truth is, when it comes to networking, not having a lot in common with someone may mean that they can be a connector for you to a whole world of people that you might not otherwise be able to meet.

Called the "father of modern networking" by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author.  He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI (www.BNI.com), the world's largest business networking organization.  His book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com.  Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute (www.ReferralInstitue.com), an international referral training company.