Networking at the Gym? Don't Break Eye Contact

We’ve become digitally social — texting, tweeting, posting, emailing. However, we have yet to evolve to the point where face-to-face contact is no longer necessary.

Business people, eye contact
Business people, eye contact

There’s something about being in the same room with someone that establishes a connection, a sense of good will, that brings integrity to a relationship. Especially business relationships.

Just make sure you use mouthwash first., which is in the business card business, has done a survey of small business owners about where they network, and what makes a bad first impression.

Many small biz types talk shop in some unusual places.

Of those surveyed, 38 percent say they have “networked” in bars and restaurants. I bet they have…

Nearly one in four have sought to build business relationships at the gym, something I’ve witnessed many times, it’s the 21st century golf course. (Read More: When Bosses Attack, Send Them to the Gym.)

And 17 percent have networked on airplanes. I have done this a few times myself, though, to be honest, I prefer being left alone on a long flight.

Then came the good stuff. When asked what is the “most offensive” thing someone can do to ruin a first impression, the top reply was “no eye contact,” chosen by 31 percent of those surveyed.

That was followed by “bad breath” (20 percent), “unpleasant appearance” (19 percent), “boring conversation” (12 percent), “limp handshake” (my pet peeve — along with 7 percent of those surveyed), and “no business card” (4 percent).

Really? No business card is the most offensive crime one can commit on meeting 4 percent of you?? I was also surprised that being a slob with bad breath is less offensive than being shifty eyed. "Hey, I may smell like a bum and could use a serious makeover, but if I look you right in the eye, you know I’m not a chump!"

Less surprising to me were the survey results suggesting that having a business card is helpful. Remember, this survey is being done by a business card company. says that of the small business owners it talked to, “a majority agrees that the business card, long thought to be a dying medium, remains a critical component of successful networking.” (Read More: Richard Branson on How to Network.)

Who needs a business card when you can tweet each other on the spot? According to the small businesses, social networking is still a work in progress. (Read More: 3 Social Media Lessons From the Olympics.)

Seventy percent of them say they use it, but only half of that group has found it to be “very valuable” to their companies. And when asked which social media site is “inappropriate” to network through, they didn’t list some “I love porn, don’t you?” site. No, the worst place to network is MySpace. Which, last I checked, hasn’t had much “networking” since shortly after the Winklevii sued Mark Zuckerberg over something called The Facebook .

My takeaway from all this?

1) Find some way to carry business cards in my Lululemon yoga pants.
2) Stare unblinkingly into the eyes of the businessperson on the mat next to me.
3) Strike up a non-boring conversation during Downward Dog.
4) Shake on our new business relationship with a knuckle-cracking grip.
5) Rinse with mouthwash. Repeat.

—By CNBC's Jane Wells

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email