Try as you might, the need to network as you progress in your career is unavoidable. Certainly this skill comes more naturally to others. The question is…why? Personality obviously plays a part. But your mindset may be the biggest factor in getting over your apprehension. No one gets excited about doing something that makes them anxious or fearful.
Fear and excitement actually have the same biological response! If you can change the way you look and think about networking, you’ll start to “feel” differently about it.
Changing our thought patterns, however is not so simple. Many people think of networking as a dirty word, as something people do to selfishly advance their own agendas. If you think of it that way, of course you wouldn’t want to do. Start by asking yourself these three questions:
1. Do you enjoy getting to know like-minded people?
2. Are you generally curious about others?
3. Would talking to people be a better way to spend your time at an event than hanging out by the food?
Assuming you said yes to at least one, that’s a start! Let me ask you a few other questions. Have you ever been at a restaurant and asked someone at the table next to you what they were eating because it looked so good? Have you seen a person reading a book you’ve been curious about and asked for their opinion? If you haven’t done these things, start doing them.
The foundation of networking is making a connection with someone you don’t know. That’s it.
It’s not about what you can get out of it with no regard for the other person. When you try to connect with someone, in person or in writing, think of it the same way you would when asking about that book. Better yet, have you ever asked someone for directions? It’s not so far off from a LinkedIn message asking for some guidance in your career. Sure you have to set it up properly, but the approach you take, or don’t take for that matter, will be determined by how you view what you’re doing.
Practice creating opportunities to make connections everyday. Whether it’s on your commute, waiting in line for coffee or at the gym, it’s not just great practice but these little human interaction can positively impact your day. Then test our your skills at a Meetup. Meetups offer great opportunities to connect and often have a more intimate feel. This will make it easier to talk to people without the overwhelming feeling that comes from walking into a crowded conference or formal professional networking event.
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change!