As many of you know, I teach in prison, on a voluntary basis, as part of their Business Studies NVQ Level 1 and 2 and every other week I meet a new group of new students and we spend two hours talking about marketing, social media, networking and starting up a small business. The sessions go really well and the prisoners / students are really engaged, but just recently I have been thinking about the different roles these students play in the class, and the different roles we all play in business.

So, I’m in my classroom with 12-15 male prisoners; there are some strong characters in the room but are these just roles they are playing as a coping mechanism in prison?

I have one guy, that within minutes of my arrival he has told me about his previous job. It feels like he’s trying to prove that he was a ’good person’ and although now in prison he was very successful on the outside, it’s like he feels bad as a prisoner and wants to show me he can be a good person.

Then there is the guy in the corner, he wants to be everyone’s friend. He nods frantically in agreement with ANYTHING anyone else says. He was nodding so frantically I was concerned he head was going to fall off.

There is a gay guy that owns a hair salon on the outside, he is very quiet and it took a while to get him to talk. He was keen to keep his head down, keep himself to himself and just get on with it, originally only telling me the real basics and nothing more than that.

Then there is a guy to my right, sat next to me and keen to talk one on one, to really have quieter conversations where the rest of the group are not involved; like he is trying to build a personal and one on one relationship with me, in the tutor sense.

As I left the prison I was thinking how this could relate to networking, we all try to be the ‘real us’ when we go networking but do we just take on roles as a ‘coping mechanism’ for networking. I think we probably do, especially in the early days.

There will always be that person that tries to prove themselves – I have been that person before, especially when I began my business. It was the first time I had run my own business and I was scared it wouldn’t work and I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself so I was constantly trying to prove myself in sometimes, quite an over-confident way, to hide my inner lack of confidence.

The person that wants to be everyone’s friend – is this not a normal thing? I know I’m certainly keen to be everyone’s friend and I hate it when someone doesn’t like me. It’s sometimes quite tricky to be friends with everyone at a networking event but I’ve seen it before.

You’ve got the person that keeps themselves to themselves; this is sometimes a nerves thing and if you stay below the line you can’t get picked out or picked on. Is this not the person who hovers round the outside of the room at networking events?

Now, and here is the interesting one, the gentleman that was sat to my right that wanted one on one attention is experiencing his first time in prison. He was in tears on arrival and has tried to commit suicide since being in prison. I’ll be honest, on first sight this guy gave me the creeps and I explained that to the prison warden – who then told me the full story.

This has probably taught me more than anything else not to judge people – people are sometimes struggling with their own internal issues and where they are right now may not be their comfort zone.

So it got me thinking, do you think you take on a role when you go networking or are you really the ‘real you’ to everyone you meet?