I'm Praveen Suthrum. After 13 years of building and running NextServices, a healthcare technology/management company, the challenges and opportunities in the industry leap out at me. I also get early access to industry trends and changes.

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The mask of schmooze

The mask of schmooze

The internship seeking period during MBA education is one of the most confusing. Jungle wisdom says that you got to network. Stand tall in a group with a glass of something. Listen attentively. Ask intelligent questions. Be silver-tongued.

Schmooze they say.

People say that you got to court clients to win sales. A tweety bird even said, you got to go beyond. Send them and their spouses on vacations to wine country. Find ways to pay them in kind (at least) for the business they can give you.

Schmooze. More.

I've struggled with this schmoozing thing all along. And I sense that I'm not alone.

Years ago, I was at a dinner with a potential client at an Italian restaurant in the wealthier parts of New York. He picked the place. He ordered the wine (my penny-wise entrepreneurial heart ached seeing the tag). And the food.

Even as we began eating, he said, "Okay, okay, show me the demo." Without once looking at me.

"Here?" I asked pursing my lips.

Somehow I couldn't get myself to place my laptop in that mix. Food. Cutlery. Wine. Bread. Demo. Not.

"Yeah, let's watch it while eating," he said taking a bite. Like a TV show.

Terribly conflicted...I finally said, "Why don't we enjoy the food? We can do the demo later."


Of course, I love food, people, and conversations.

But can't business - essentially an exchange between you and the world - be simpler? More real?

I know what some of you must be thinking. This is normal. And that's how business gets done. You must even be thinking, this guy (me) is weird.

Schmooze is a mask that hides a void inside of us

If you DO find yourself not being YOU. During that job interview. That annual review. That sale. Reflect on following questions:

  • Why am I wearing this mask right now?
  • What am I not confident about? That is compelling me to not be myself.
  • If I completely trust my abilities to get things done, would I behave differently?
  • If situations were to be reversed (say I'm the client), how would I expect me to be?
  • What are my biggest fears? Is this the way to address them?

So what do you do?

Our world has conditioned us to wear these wonderful masks. To protect ourselves from various situations.

We keep wearing so many. One sticking on tightly over the other. That sometimes we don't know which one is us and which one is the mask.

As you might've figured out by now...the real problem of a mask like schmoozing is that it hides a real problem. It prevents us from asking the right questions. Why are you feeling less confident? Why are you worried about your finances? What's it about what you are selling that embarrasses you?

Such questions peal layer after layer. Until what's left is simply YOU.

If you can trust that YOU to do the right thing. Then the person on the other side will sense it too. Perceive you like you would love to be perceived. Because he also wants to be himself. And peal away his own mask.

With masks removed, there's a chance to get to know the other person as a human being. Just like you. Someone with desires and fears just like you.

In such a zone, there's scope to create magic.

Sales. A job. An internship. These are simply natural outcomes. That are bound to flow.

Embracing the yin at work

Embracing the yin at work

Experiments in tribe building

Experiments in tribe building