Maybe you think “you either have it, or you don’t” when it comes to networking. Or, maybe you think that connecting, making conversation, and socializing comes more naturally to others, than to you. Well, guess what? You do have what it takes. I know this because I was the consummate wall flower in a former life, so and I am here to tell that you can do it! Further, networking is an important part of career development. It’s an investment worth making for yourself and in others, and it’s not as hard as you may think. Let’s explore.
In my case, and in the case of almost every woman I’ve ever coached, the driving factor in avoiding networking (and many other things in life) is fear. In fact, fear holds people back from many opportunities in life that can enrich, propel, and grow us in significant ways. Real fear does serve a purpose. It is intended to help us avoid danger. When we encounter potential real danger like fire, an impending tornado, or entering a crime-ridden area, we use our knowledge and judgement of the situation to make the best possible choice about how to proceed. However; the objects of phobias like heights, spiders, or flying, are not dangerous in and of themselves, but they may make us uncomfortable. If we dwell on that discomfort, and the ‘what if’s’ that accompany it, fears can grow into full blown phobias. The driving reason women are fearful of networking is often due to a lack of self-esteem, which is ironic, because networking is a fantastic way to boost your self-esteem! Overcoming this hurdle requires improving how we value or see ourselves, which can be done when we really look at the truth of the matter.
Although you may fear interacting with a group of people at a networking event, it is not a dangerous situation! Approaching any one of them will do you no harm – quite the opposite! There is absolutely nothing to fear. You may be nervous, and slightly afraid perhaps, but debilitating fear that paralyzes is irrational.
Let’s review these following truths about networking.
People at networking events:
- Are all there for the same reason; to network!
- Are typically in an open and receptive mindset.
- Usually want to help you as much as you want to be helped.
- Are not going to hurt or harm you in any way.
- Are very interested in what you can provide in terms of a connection.
But, if you are fearful, you may be feeling and thinking just the opposite. Here are some falsehoods about networking.
People at networking events:
- Are all there to make fun of and laugh at me.
- Will ignore me and make me feel unwanted.
- Will want to make me look like a fool.
- Will bite me if I say something stupid, or humiliate me.
- Will think ‘who do you think you are, and what are you doing here?’.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? When we are fearful, it is typically because we have chosen to believe a pack of lies about ourselves, a situation or others that simply isn’t true! To overcome the fear is a process of thought replacement – quit lying to yourself, and replace those outlandish thoughts with the truth – whatever the situation may be!
Perhaps your fear of networking isn’t on such a grand scale, but rather in one-on-one settings, small group opportunities, or at a party. The same logic applies. Fill your mind with the reality of the situation, and positive thoughts, and then choose to proceed with what you know to be true. It also helps to focus on other people, their interests and needs, rather than yourself and your perceived shortcomings.
If you aren’t fearful of such situations, or now that you are armed with the knowledge of how to overcome your fears, you might be thinking ‘Why do I need to network? Things at work are just fine.’ Well, they may be fine today, tomorrow or next week, but what about after that? The business landscape is in a continuous evolution of change that typically keeps pace with rapid technology improvements, regardless of industry. Just as you need to invest in your health by eating proper foods and exercising, and in your financial future by building and monitoring your investments, so it goes with work. Networking is like paying job insurance. Invest a little bit every month, and if you find yourself unemployed, you will have a network to reach to for help in finding a new job.
Even if your job is as stable as Mt. Everest, networking is still a huge idea. The advantages are almost endless. Meeting new people in other industries or jobs and cultivating those relationships pays big time. For example, say you sell widgets and you meet someone that sells gizmos. Your widget and their gizmo may have nothing in common initially, but you like Mr. Gizmo seller, and you decide to meet up with him for coffee every once in a while. One day you call upon Acme, and they really want to buy your widget, but they just can’t buy it unless they have gizmos, because, well it’s complicated. You have the perfect solution for them, because you just happen to know someone who sells gizmos, and the deal is done. In the process, you’ve made many people happy; your customer, their clients, and Ms. Gizmo seller. So networking, in the end, isn’t just for your benefit. It’s for the greater good, and really keeps business humming.
So, now you may be convinced that networking is a good thing, and that you can actually do it. But how? If you’re busy, introverted, or not very well connected to begin with, the task may seem monumental. It’s really not. Below are several easy, relatively painless ways to get started:
- Ask a colleague to lunch or morning coffee
- Email an article to a supplier that pertains to their business, and comment on it
- Call or connect on Linked-In with a former business associate to see what they’re up to
- Take a continuing education class in your business area (or a new one) and get to know the other students and teacher
Enter into each of these scenarios with the intent of giving something like a tip, a business opportunity, a compliment for a job well done, or contributing something meaningful. Over time, these small acts will build on themselves, and you will see that people respond in kind. Once you’ve built a beginning base, branch out to larger functions such as:
- Joining Toastmasters
- Attending a local Linked-In networking event (check for your local group – they exist)
- Going to an industry trade show in your line of work
- Attend a High-Heeled Success® workshop (http://www.highheeledsuccess.com/events.html)
If these larger events seem daunting, enlist a colleague or friend to go with you. Someone with established connections who does well in social situations is ideal, but even going with a friend who shares your same goals will bolster your confidence. You can support each other and work together as a team. Work the room and meet groups of people or an individual together. Introduce your colleague by name, title and company, and then share some amazing qualities, talents, skills or current project they are leading. Your friend in turn will do the same for you.
In the end, networking is all about building meaningful relationships that are mutually beneficial. It’s similar to making friends, meeting a significant other, or investing time with your children or other family members. Work can consume well over half of our waking hours. This unavoidably means working with and being around many people. Doesn’t it make sense to build bridges and a network to support your career that comprises such a large part of your life? Invest a little time in networking every month, and year over year you will have a strong foundation lifting you up, as well as creating meaning in your job and life, which provides a way to ‘give back’ in kind for what you’ve been given.