For many people, networking is a distressing and paralyzing prospect. Unfortunately, these feelings only intensify when a career demands social interaction at networking events or online. The anxiety of networking is more common than you might think, but you can overcome your fear by making a concentrated effort.
A new perspective relieves the anxiety of networking
J. Ryan Williams poses soul-searching realizations in this forbes.com article, “Why You’re Afraid of Networking (And What to Do About It).” While it is short on solutions, it can challenge you to understand some subconscious fears of why networking is so scary.
1. You stink at networking – You may have the perception of a networker as a self-serving, fast-talking smarmy individual forcing their way into an intimate circle of friends. If so, Williams suggests doing a reality check. Realize that the other attendees aren't best friends. Many people are uncomfortable in these situations. And remember that you have something of value to offer the group. Your knowledge and experience are unique and interesting. Be yourself and start asking questions and listening; relationships will follow.
2. Imposter Syndrome – A sense of belonging, or not, is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Many times, you'll find yourself in a situation that is not comfortable. You'll feel that you don't belong. And this feeling, especially during a network event, will cause you to hold back. According to Dr. Amy Cuddy, this “imposter syndrome” is experienced by 80% of U.S. adults. So, overcoming this feeling can help you realize your legitimate place in the room. Perhaps bringing a friend or standing back and power posing may increase your confidence to resume a comfortable position.
Helpful strategies to cope with social anxiety
Now that the subconscious is cleared, let’s look at some proactive steps to help alleviate the anxiety of networking. Writing for getpocket.com, Amy Capetta shares ideas from several clinical psychologists in her article, “5 Strategies for Coping with Social Anxiety.” The good news is that “the more strategies you adopt to deal with your anxiety, the better off you’re going to be and the more you’re going to protect yourself from developing a social anxiety disorder.” Here are several confidence-boosting techniques to consider:
Your Mindset – Watch your self-talk and lean toward a positive attitude about your upcoming networking opportunity. Remember that you are not the center of attention and being judged for your every action and word. Above all, let go of unrealistic expectations requiring you to shine at every moment. Focus instead on being kind and warm. Your goal is to simply connect with someone. Resolve to make the most of the event and know that you CAN handle it.
Start Small – Begin with simple actions of introduction and cordial conversation. For example, being in line with others is a great place to warm up to the crowd. Also, you can bring others into the conversation when appropriate, especially if the food or place setting look beautiful. Most people enjoy positive chitchat about food.
Focus on Others – Listen for cues and areas of particular interest in conversations. To get started, study the body language and even the faces of other attendees. Certainly, avoid turning the attention to your internal feelings.
With a conscious effort and more practice, you can improve your networking skills.
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