Professional or Personal: Are You Crossing the Line?

Picture this: you’re at a networking event. There are about ten men and three women in attendance. You are one of the women. It is time to begin mingling. You are approached by a few people, approach a few others, and confidently begin to collect business cards or mailing list sign ups. Then you meet one of the few people you haven’t spoken to yet, and he starts asking you questions that no one else has. What area of the city do you live in? Are you married? Kids? You start to feel uncomfortable. You were here to talk about your business, after all. The questions seem innocent enough, but strung together it starts to feel like the person in front of you isn’t interested in your business at all, but rather whether or not you’ll go on a date with him.

This happens both online and in person all too often. It’s hard enough to put yourself and your business out there without fearing that you’re going to be harassed. And for harassers, they don’t realize just how much business they are giving up on by looking for love in all the wrong places. So I thought I would give some pointers on how to avoid and deal with these situations from both sides.

To Not Be A Harasser

If you are worried about coming on too strong when you maybe don’t mean it, below are some clarifications so you’ll know if your questions are too personal. Before we go on, some people will need this important reminder:

Networking and business events, and applications such as LinkedIn or Shapr are no place to be searching for love. If you are looking for romantic interests, download Tinder or go to a bar by yourself. Not only will confusing the professional and the personal be creepy and awkward for the people you are trying to meet, you will ruin your professional image before it even gets off the ground. Sometimes people may happen to meet a romantic interest through one of these venues, it’s true. But they usually aren’t there LOOKING for it.

Now, to distinguish if your questions are crossing the line:

Sometimes you might genuinely want to know what area of the city someone lives in (for example, in Paris, it’s an opportunity to compare the different arrondissements). However, asking someone where they live directly can seem like you’re trying to stalk them. Ask them what neighbourhood they are in, or if they had to travel much to get to the meeting location.

You don’t need to ask about someone’s marital or relationship status. Most of the time that information will come up if that person wants it to.

Try asking questions about their business and business interests- avoid things like “what do you do for fun?”

Do not discuss a person’s appearance. Not only can it lead into being inappropriate, but you have better things to talk about than the colour of someone’s shirt, no matter how cool you may find it.

Don’t use pet names like honey, sugar, darling, dear, love, sweetie, etc. We’re no longer in the 1930s. Address people by their names.

To Deal With A Harasser

It is uncomfortable to be harassed, particularly in a public space. When I face an inappropriate comment, I often feel comfortable enough to call it out, but this might be really difficult for some. Just know that whenever anyone makes you uncomfortable for any reason, you can walk away from them. Even if you think they have tons of money or connections, you can find people with just as much money and connections that won’t make you constantly uncomfortable. How to deal with it when it happens:

Try to come up with a plan in advance of the event. “If someone makes me uncomfortable, I will excuse myself and not return to the conversations they are in.” You are fully allowed to walk away from a situation that makes you uncomfortable, and you don’t need to explain yourself. You can also use whatever excuse comes to mind, like that you’re getting a drink, going to the bathroom, your grandma just walked in, or you left the stove on.

Feel free to let people know that they are making you uncomfortable. I understand that you may feel angry, but you are also in a professional setting. So try not to start a screaming match (that won’t make you look good to your new contacts) but try using phrases like “You’re making me uncomfortable” or “That’s inappropriate” or even just “I don’t feel comfortable answering that question.” You deserve to feel comfortable in these environments!

Event Hosts/App Developers

Even if you are neither a harasser nor a victim of harassment, it is on you to create a safe environment for people to meet and talk. Decide what you’re going to do if someone complains about inappropriate behaviour, or what you will do when you see it for yourself. Including a block and report feature is definitely good to have on an app, and deciding beforehand how you will intervene at your events will help you if it actually happens.

And for everyone attending networking events- don’t drink excessively. This will help you to remain strictly in the professional realm!