The first time I met Hosan Lee, I had a revelation about networking. I’m an introvert and a self-proclaimed networking hater, but Hosan and I were introduced by a mutual friend, after which the three of us grabbed drinks and chatted for a couple hours about what we do, what we believe in, and how we can help each other out. By the end, I had been added to the planning committee for one of her events, was offered introductions to a few other interesting people in my city, and had found a new co-working buddy.

As I walked home that night, I realized—my fun night out was networking, too. Networking in a way that felt much more personal and natural to me than attending a big event and trying to collect as many business cards as possible.

Turns out, Hosan has the same feelings about networking as it’s most commonly seen in the world today. “We have hundreds and thousands of people on our devices, and an infinite number of ways of getting in touch with each other. But these vast networks usually stay inactive,” she explained to me. “On the surface, it looks like we're all connected and that the world is getting smaller, and yet there's a void that seems to grow the more people we collect.”

With that in mind, she set out to create situations and experiences where people could connect in ways that are fulfilling and satisfying. And thus began TableTribes Picnics, a series of organized communal dinners in cities across the U.S. made to facilitate authentic relationship-building over a meal.

A better way to network? I think so. And I sat down with Hosan this week to learn more.

It seems like you’re really trying to reframe what networking is. What is your vision for what networking could be?

When we talk about the need to network, I think what we’re trying to say is that we want to build relationships that are going to be productive both professionally and personally. But we forget that end goal and we just focus on what we need in the short term. I think that’s why networking today sort of has so much baggage associated with it.

For me, the most productive personal and professional relationships come from actually first sharing core values with another person. If you like the other person, if you’re bonding over not just interests, but the way that you see the world and the way you want the world to function, then you’re going to figure out a way to work together to make something like that happen. It should be a win-win situation for both parties involved.

What are some tips you have for people wanting to build these authentic relationships?

I think it really comes down to not going in with an agenda. I know that’s really counter to all the networking tips you get these days, when people tell you, “Go in knowing what you want and go get it.” I know that we as women often get criticized for approaching networking as relationship-building, but I don’t see it as a negative attribute.

I think that when you go in to a conversation without an agenda, the first thing you ask yourself is whether you share the same core values, and then everything else just stems naturally from there. If you like the person, you say, “Can I work with this person? Are we aligned in terms of shared visions and our skill sets and our resources to make this happen?”

But none of that can really go forward without the initial step of understanding someone as a person. You have to ask yourself: Do I click with this person? Do I enjoy spending time with him or her? Do I feel energized after we meet? From there you can decide if it’s a relationship worth pursuing.

You say you want agenda-free networking, but what if I’m a job seeker who's trying to network my way into a position? Is there a way that authentic relationship building can fit into that?

Yes, definitely. I’m not saying be naïve, or just hope for the best and wait for something to fall into your lap—the world doesn’t work that way.

If you’re going into a situation where you need a job, approaching it from this authentic perspective means that everything is a collaboration. You’re collaborating to try to make someone’s work or life better, and in turn improving your situation. So, instead of going into a conversation saying, “I’m looking for a job,” you go in saying, “I want to contribute to your company because I think that we believe in the same thing. Now how can I help?”

If it’s really about an equal collaboration, you’ve already—in your mind at least—eliminated this typical hierarchy that puts a lot of pressure on people. When you remove hierarchies, when you remove agendas, you go into situations as an equal. And already you’ve started to establish more of an authentic relationship right there. Because, yeah, the end goal is that you want this job, but first you want to see if it’s the right fit for you.

Besides attending a TableTribes event, what are other ways to build these authentic relationships?

Just like any other skill, this social skill of building relationships has to be practiced. So, next time you’re out instead of getting absorbed in your phone or whatever, just start talking to somebody. You know, the old-fashioned ways of connecting with people in real life! That’s what works for me.

It’s important to note that for some people, more traditional networking events work as a venue. They enjoy it, and they’re able to make real connections there.

But I think more fundamentally we need to rethink what we’re doing when we network. Not necessarily what the methods are, but what we’re trying to get out of it.

Ready to try your hand at this new kind of networking? Picnics are currently scheduled for Washington, DC, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, and New York City—register today!

Photo courtesy of Katie Warren.