Going into a networking event, is your most prevalent feeling excitement, expectation, ambivalence or fear? Are you more self assured or more self conscious? What’s that cost, lost or made you?
So Why Do I Consider Networking So Important?
Business is done with people and no matter what our role is, the better we are able to leverage contacts through our networking, the better we are able to help facilitate outcomes; outcomes that serve our own needs, those of our company, those of our clients and customers and those of our partners and other stakeholders including government functions etc. Personal relationships within all or most of these contacts often serve to get and keep things moving sweetly, don’t they?
So Why The Importance?
Because I have learned and am absolutely convinced that anyone in business today needs to be mindful of the value and the extent of their network and what that enables them to “bring to the table”; be it junior or senior, as a leader, an employee or as a contractor or consultant or as a business owner; and be it in a “front office” or in a “back office” role.
Think about it, if you are a leader, apart from the obvious competence, soft skills (EQ) and attitude requirements isn’t the value and reach of their network one of the key attributes you look for when making an appointment?
And if you think about it as an employee, can you see how much more valuable you’d be to a potential employer if you can confidently outline what network associations (professional and other) you can leverage for their benefit?
From all those I have coached into and through this, I am absolutely clear about how much such a networking value attitude can differentiate you from competitors that don’t have that value.
And so the breadth and depth and diversity of our network will depend very much on how seriously we take the topic of Networking and also how well we build and maintain our networks and the relationships they engender.
The Role Of Fear
I am still amazed how many business people, across all the above categories, still struggle with appreciating the need for Networking as well as how common it is to find so many of them struggling with the notion of “having to meet new people”. In so many cases, they will also admit to the fear they feel for having to do this. And I have found that it doesn’t matter either what gender or age or maturity or seniority or role they are, for so many of them to be struggling.
What Sort Of Fears Are We Talking About Here?
In my experience there are quite a few. Fear of people. Fear or rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of “being found out”. Fear of being made to look stupid. And as I wrote in Dealing with Fear, all of these are “made in the head” and allowed to prevail through the (over) active self talk we propagate in our minds.
Self Assured Or Self Conscious?
So just have a think about when last you went into a networking event. How did you feel as you were going in? Comfortable? Confident? Excited? Self assured? Because you love being with people and eagerly anticipated meeting a bunch of new people?
Or did you feel somewhat afraid? Anxious? Uncomfortable? Self conscious? Intimidated even? Because you knew you “had to do this” but really felt out of place and out of your depth, wishing that you were elsewhere?
What Role Does Authenticity Play?
Just recently I coached someone that had the courage to admit how she hated (actually feared) “Networking events”. Peeling back the layers that might have made up this fear, we came to recognize the prevalence of authenticity as being one of her important values. What she struggled with was feeling a little inferior, even somewhat intimidated by the “polished” responses she encountered from other incumbents in the room when introducing herself or being introduced to them.
In doing so wasn’t she actually putting them into the “majority” camp and herself into the “minority” camp? And hence indirectly suggesting the majority was “right” or “dominant” and that she considering herself as the minority felt she was “wrong” or “inferior”? Wasn’t she “judging” them and herself?
Isn’t it amazing what pictures and games our minds can allow us to play out?
Applying the 80:20 rule, we wondered together how much of the “polish” she thought was genuine and how much of it was just “practiced polish” and how much of it was actually genuine? We readily agreed that 80% was probably polish thereby “masking” what was really going on in the “authentic interiors” of these people and that many of them were actually playing out a stereotype they had learned and that was expected of “successfully networking business people”. Can you relate?
We also found it quite ironic that the very people she felt obliged to have to try to emulate were the ones she least would want to be like or associate with in normal life. Why? Because authenticity being one of her values, she aspired to be able, also in business, to just be who she is and be successful nonetheless.
And so we completed the reframe, wondering how she might feel about just trying to find and connect those in the 20% that like her, wanted to be just who they are; without the polish but nonetheless probably successful business people.
We could sense that this would probably restore a sense of “being more in control”, thereby serving to invalidate much of the fear. And more importantly, finding and connecting with people she would more than likely find to be Interested or Interesting.
So How Can We Transform Self Consciousness Into Self Assurance?
You see, what I have learned is that networking with a purpose is to build interesting connections with people of interest to us in our business network. The purpose brings with it an intent to achieve an outcome, namely to expand our reach through extending our network of trusted associates. In order to build a trust relationship, we have to first meet or be introduced to people so that we can decide whether we do or don’t want to connect with them. (Yes, it is most certainly a choice.)
I have found for myself and from my clients that attaching a purpose to the event and the subsequent networking benefits energizes them towards the outcome and helps obviate the void created by fear. This way we focus on the prize and not on the price. (As I wrote in The Price and the Prize).
And so, the more we practice networking with purpose, the better we get at it. We are in control how well we manage authenticity, and who we choose to connect with or not. And at some point we will have practiced enough that we actually appear to be “polished” to others who are less practiced, right?
The 7 Steps That Matter
Is it really that easy? Well, I’d like to share what I have learned and now teach in terms of helping that transition from “hard” into “easy”.
So here are 7 steps my clients learn when we get into the networking part of our coaching journey:
1. Have a purpose
As I outlined already above, being focused on the outcome and not the process helps shift the attention away from the fear parts of your mind chatter. It gives us energy to overcome fear. (Action cures fear). It allows us to take our eyes off ourselves (self conscious) and put them curiously onto the others in the room, wondering who we might meet that could be interesting to us.
2.The Role Of Goals
I have learned that goals help cement and drive our purpose and are useful in this context only so that we don’t allow fear to have us “cop out”. Entering into the event these goals are best forgotten, so as to make space for our curiosity, and allow our conscious and unconscious attention to be directed to those around us, wondering who we might find potentially interesting.
3. Be Curious
Being Curious opens up our mind and takes the (self conscious) attention off ourselves and allows us to wonder who we are going to meet, what interesting things we might be able to learn from them, and whether or what value both parties might be able and willing to add to each others’ agenda.
4. Have A Go
Remember that you have to “be in it to win it”. So standing self consciously in a corner will certainly not attract many people towards you. However, having that curious intent can help you seek and make eye contact (with a smile) and let yourself decide if you think they might be worth “moving towards”. I remember teaching my children not to worry about “what others are thinking about you”. They aren’t. Why? Because most of them are too busy worrying about what you might be thinking about them. Just have a go. You’re in control.
5. Be Selective
If you notice they aren’t what you’re interested in, it can always be time to go and put your cup down or refill it, right? You don’t have to worry or feel sorry for how they might feel. You are in control. It is far more important to “keep moving” than being stuck in a conversation you don’t feel is going to go anywhere. At that point it might be useful to be reminded of your goal, so as to use that energy to be the “time to move on catalyst”. Please remind yourself that the event is about to (re)start and that you don’t have much time. Also, if you haven’t met the number you intended, make yourself stay for further chats afterwards. I find that quite easy because I can use a comment they may have made in the event as the “introductory ice breaker”.
6. Find Aspects That You Enjoy
If any self consciousness creeps in “between moves”, I found it useful to remind myself of the last really successful connection I made and what value both of us have since leveraged from it. That way we can utilize that positive energy, put a smile on our face and just lean forward so we have to make a step forward to somewhere.
7. Reflect and Adjust
Finally, after each event it is important to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and why, so we can learn from those insights for next time. I have also used that as a catalyst to ask another person whether this has been a successful networking event for them? That easily invokes a “comparing notes” conversation which strongly breaks down any barriers if you are willing to “open up” a bit. One critical rule to highlight here is to NEVER beat yourself up in this reflection. Only positive learnings are allowed, which includes putting a positive spin on what didn’t work and how you might adjust that next time. Beating up on yourself is absolutely “verboten”, OK?
So let me challenge you here, if I may. If you are the self assured person described above, what are you doing to help others around you to develop this skill for themselves and perhaps in doing so to help you?
And if you are willing to admit to be one of the more self conscious that may be struggling with the “networking thing”, how willing are you to try and apply the above steps to “have a go”?
And if you aren’t sure that you can do this on your own, why wouldn’t you pick up the phone and engage a coach to help you develop what I consider to be one of the more important business success building skills you can acquire today.
Go on. Contact me and Let’s Talk Coaching so you can sport a network that allows people to naturally call you and say: “Mary, who do you know that….?” because they know you will probably be able to connect them with someone that can; someone you will know you can trust. What if you could?