Get All Access for $5/mo

How to Network With the Elephant in the Room Consider these tips when you next need to navigate potentially awkward business networking situations with minimal drama.

By Ivan Misner

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Most experienced networkers know that it's nearly inevitable, especially in established business-networking groups, that you wind up in situations with people whom you simply just. . . can't stand to be around.

Drama or bad blood can occur any time we occupy the same space with other humans. But they're even more likely where wide varieties of people and personalities interact. Business-networking meetings are included in these situations by their very nature.

Several reasons exist why you might wind up in a business networking situation with someone you'd rather not have to encounter. Here are three of the most common and suggestions for navigating them gracefully.

1. Poor referrals
The main purpose of networking groups is to develop close enough relationships between members to refer business to one another.

Related: A New Definition of Networking

In nearly every case, this is a win-win for the person getting the referral and for the one who gave it. However, in a small percentage of referrals, something goes wrong.

Then human nature kicks in and makes it even worse: People tend to talk about each other, not to each other. Suppose that Margaret gives Larry a referral and for some reason Larry did not deliver what he promised. What tends to happen is that Margaret then tells her friend Sam what an idiot Larry is, and how bad his service is. . . without ever going to Larry and talking to him to personally discover what went on and discuss how it could be fixed.

At best, this behavior perpetuates the negative feelings. At worst, it exacerbates them.

In the vast majority of these situations, nothing was wrong with the referral. The problem usually is simply a matter of miscommunication.

The bottom line: Things sometimes go wrong, but don't perpetuate the problem through lack of open, honest communication. If you take a few minutes right after it happens to talk about it in a nonconfrontational way, you'll avoid making an awkward situation even worse.

2. Personal disagreements
I've often said, only half kidding, that networking would be so much easier if people weren't involved. But since they are, disagreements now and again are inevitable. I've often been asked to handle disagreements over the years. My advice is always been the same: Don't focus on the problem, focus on the solution.

Why? If you only focus on the problem, you become an expert at the problem, but you never come up with a way to fix it.

That doesn't help anyone -- not the people disagreeing, and certainly not the others who have to listen to this drama at every meeting.

If you're getting drawn into a drama, take aside one adversary and ask: "Just how bad is this situation?" Give them a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst. Usually, the answer is 3-4.

If that's the case, ask: "Why is it so high?" They will probably look at you as if you're crazy and say something like, "But it's low."

Related: Are You Taking More Than You Give? 3 Tips for More Balanced Relationships

Then ask, "What is good about the other person you are in this disagreement with -- to the point that you didn't give them a 1 or a 2?" Then help the person build on that. Encourage open, honest and direct communication between the two members.

3. Breakups
Networking groups tend to attract like-minded people, so they can often bring people together for more than just business. This can be a blessing, but it can quickly turn into a curse if the relationship ends and the members are still in the same group.

Rules that members cannot date aren't realistic or recommended. If you find yourself in a breakup with a regular member of your networking group, I argue that given the value of your network, it's worth working through those feelings.

I'll put it bluntly: Suck it up, and continue to network. Don't lose a network of valuable referral sources you have built over a few days or weeks of discomfort.

The more professional you remain through and following the breakup -- by not talking badly about the other person, or bringing your personal situation into the business operations of the group, the more highly you will be viewed by the other members. The same goes for business-related breakups, too.

No matter what the details, the fact is that at some point or another almost everyone involved in business networking will face an awkward moment with another networker, so it's probably going to happen to you.

It's the end game that you should be working toward, and that is growing your business. Don't ever burn bridges with people in your group, because you never know : You might end up being friends and valued referral partners.

Related: 7 Key Habits of Super Networkers

Ivan Misner

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Bestselling Author

Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of the bestselling book, Networking Like a Pro (Entrepreneur Press 2017). He is also the founder and chief visionary officer of BNI, the world's largest referral marketing and networking organization.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

Is the AI Industry Consolidating? Hugging Face CEO Says More AI Entrepreneurs Are Looking to Be Acquired

Clément Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, a $4.5 billion startup, says he gets at least 10 acquisition requests a week and it's "increased quite a lot."

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.


ChatGPT is Becoming More Human-Like. Here's How The Tool is Getting Smarter at Replicating Your Voice, Brand and Personality.

AI can be instrumental in building your brand and boosting awareness, but the right approach is critical. A custom GPT delivers tailored collateral based on your ethos, personality and unique positioning factors.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Side Hustle

'The Work Just Fills My Soul': She Turned Her Creative Side Hustle Into a 6-Figure 'Dream' Business

Kayla Valerio, owner of vivid hair salon Haus of Color, transformed her passion into a lucrative venture.

Starting a Business

I Left the Corporate World to Start a Chicken Coop Business — Here Are 3 Valuable Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Board meetings were traded for barnyards as a thriving new venture hatched.