There's a time and place to network with people in order to generate leads, build rapport and form meaningful relationships. The change room at your gym, spa or country club isn't one of them. It's a lousy place to do any networking. Things dangle, imperfections are visible and being naked means that you're vulnerable.
If the person is a yapper, you're stuck listening to him since you won't be able to scurry away to your car in your birthday suit. If the person is a looker, you may feel embarassed asking her to keep her eyes focused on your own.
If you bump into someone you've been trying to get in touch with, and he's standing in front of you half-naked, here's some tips to remember to avoid embarrassment.
Don't stare. At a networking event, it's perfectly fine to look at what someone's wearing and even comment on how they look. In the change room, this is a no-no. Whether the person has a mole on their butt or a rash on their thigh, resist the temptation of eyeing that spot. Also, never ask how they got it. Instead, glance at the spot quickly, then return your focus to the person's eyes.
Keep your eyes at eye level. While networking, it's common for people to make eye contact then let their eyes fall down to your chest area to read your name tag. Don't do this in the change room. Nothing is more embarassing then dropping your eyes to scan the person in their birthday suit. Your best bet is to pretend the person is wearing a full body chastity suit and that you can't see anything below the his or her neck.
Don't have a long chat. At a networking event, it's okay to engage people for at least 5-minutes to find out who they are and how you can help them. In the change room, people are often not in the business frame of mind. For example, someone at the gym is there to workout and may need to get back to office quickly. Someone at the spa is there to relax and has left the office at the office. If you must chat, keep it very pleasant and very short. Then, promise to follow-up by email or phone later in the day.
Resist the handshake. In a normal networking situation, shaking hands is proper business etiquette. However, while in the change room, resist the urge to stick out your hand. The person may have hair gel, body lotion or some other goopy substance all over their fingers. The last thing you want to do is stand there after a handshake with something wet drying all over your fingers as you chat. Instead, simply wave hello, keep your distance and just smile.
Don't ask "Why are you here?" This is a normal question at a networking event. People are dying to know what you're looking for so they can help you. In the change room, asking that question is either stating the obvious or can be awkward. If you're at the gym, assume they're working out. If the person's at the doctor's office, most likely they have a medical condition that they'd prefer to discuss with their doctor. If you must ask questions, try asking about the family, a recent vacation or what they're reading these days and stay away from asking about the obvious.
Networking in the change room can happen, just remember how to do it effectively to avoid an awkward encounter. Keep your eyes level, resist the urge to touch and you'll soon learn that networking while undressed can be rewarding to the growth of your business.