Recently I was invited to attend an invitation only networking event.  The event was hosted by service providers in my industry and intended to be a source of new clients for the multiple vendors hosting.  The event had a very good turnout of fellow HR professionals and was equally attended by sales and leadership representatives from the respective hosts.

As I was waiting in line at the bar, one of the hosts began grilling me about who I was, insistent to pinpoint where exactly we had met.  Her tone reeked of ego and status.   It was a very awkward conversation until someone both of us knew joined the conversation.  At this point, she shifted her focus from me to this individual as she perceived based on their title as someone of “influence”.  She immediately asked them if they would be staying for the private dinner, then looked at me and very dismissively said, ‘and you are not invited”.    I made a polite but direct comment back stating that was fine as I was not interested anyway.  She walked away and the individual (who did accept her dinner offer) looked at me in amazement commenting that her behavior was rude.

At the same event, I ran into another individual to whom I have interacted with on social media prior to that event.  I introduced myself and received the same, cold, “HR elitist” response.  Between the first interaction and this one, I felt like I was watching the movie “Mean Girls” play out in real time, except these are grown adults in a profession that is dedicated to humans.   Ironically when I started having a conversation with others that I was fortunate enough to sit with that evening, they each had similar experiences that I did from these same individuals.  When we judge someone’s, worthiness based on title, where they work or who they know we are creating a narrative no one will eventually want to read.

“Every interaction we have with individuals is an interview”.  Those words of advice my son recently received from one of his teacher mentors.  The point was to remind him that people are always watching and taking notes.  We never forget both the positive and negative interactions.  It is especially harder to re-write and overcome the negative ones.   The fact is, these two individuals had a great chance to make a first impression count, and they both blew it!  That person you dismissed today may be at a current client or become the CHRO at a global organization at your dream client tomorrow.  And if they are already a client of yours, based on that interaction will seek services elsewhere (one of the individuals at my table stated this was the case btw).  The individual may be a consultant with relationships that extend into a large network of influence, be up and coming in the profession, new to our profession and just seeking an opportunity to build meaningful connections with others.  In this situation, they failed to see that opportunity.  A wise person once said, “your behavior today, changes how someone may perceive you tomorrow”.   How you make them feel – is just as important as what you say.

I reflected on this situation with my son as he is navigating the challenges of the workplace.  What I am especially grateful for is the fact the actions of both individuals that evening resulted in me sitting at a table with people that I was meant to meet.  I gladly picked up their fumbled missed opportunity and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown.   The referrals and relationships we build with others are based not just on subject matter expertise or who do I know in my network, but those small interactions and moments in between.