On a scale to 1 to 10, 1 being never and 10 being all the time, how often do you guys schmooze?
schmooze verb \ˈshmüz\
: to talk with someone in a friendly way often in order to get some advantage for yourself
Schmoozing can look like a lot of different things and it has varying degrees, but Merriam-Webster puts it pretty simply – It always has a purpose and that is to gain some advantage for yourself (or an extension of yourself, i.e. your business, a cause, or your family).
Honestly, the whole concept of schmoozing has always grossed me out. I still do it, of course – Whether consciously or not, we all do. I mean, I know I’ve walked into unfamiliar situations and turned on some “charm” because I wanted to be accepted and favored. But when the stakes are higher than my insecurities, I have to start asking – Where is the line in all of this? Authenticity is important to me. So is sincerity. Schmoozing seems like a socially accepted form of… Well, manipulation.
Can these values co-exist?
Most people I’ve talked to about this topic seem to have learned to play this game much earlier than I have. They’ve been at it so long, they’re no longer concerned with the validity of the whole thing. They look at me like they’re too polite to explain that I’ve fallen behind on the class curve. And unfortunately so, because the sooner I start playing, the sooner I get to pass “Go” and collect $200 (or so they tell me).
Earlier today, my team members and I got into a discussion about the necessity of this behavior in the work place. Anyone who has been part of any company or organization knows how political things on the inside can get and schmoozing is a tool that allows you to stay on the favorable side of the decision-makers, the people in power. It is both a shelter of self-preservation and an extension ladder, a handy all-in-one survival toolkit if there ever was one.
Being the curious researcher I am, I experimented later that afternoon and said something to a coworker that I wouldn’t have necessarily shared out loud if all of this hadn’t been on my mind. I saw an inconsequential opportunity to stroke someone’s ego and although I believed what I said, the seed that I planted in our relationship had some powerful results. This person gravitated to my desk and shared a level of familiarity with me that I hadn’t experienced with them before.
Which lead me to wonder – If this is a game we are all playing, what do we have to leave on the table if we lose?