As the elevator doors opened, the noise hit me like a wall and I cringed inside: Oh god, more networking… I already felt like I needed a shower.
If networking makes you feel “dirty” – you’re not alone!
When Behavioral Economist, Tiziana Casciaro, measured people’s reactions to networking, many people reported feeling “dirty” or “impure.”
In lab experiments, these feelings were traced to two aspects of networking:
- Professionality (as opposed to networking with friends)
- Intentionality (as opposed to spontaneous networking)
In other words, going to an event deliberately to network professionally made people feel worse about networking. While spontaneously meeting new people while hanging out with friends did not.
In field studies, people higher on the ladder reported feeling more comfortable networking. One reason that Casciaro theorized: higher-ups feel more comfortable because they have more to offer the people that they are networking with.
The Lesson: if you want to feel less ashamed, reframe networking as an opportunity to help others.
Back to Earth Now
Okay, that’s the science – but if you’re like me, you probably wonder how to put that into practice. I don’t pretend to be an expert at networking but I found a few things that work for me. You are welcome to leverage them while you figure out what works for you.
1. Pick the right events for you.
I stay away from anything with the word “networking” in the title because those events tend to be filled with people who I don’t have anything in common with and that’s too much of a challenge for me.
What works? I’m fascinated by the Future of Work and tend to show up at events with that in the title. That’s gotten me into book launches, app launches, and a fascinating series by a business furniture company – all with experts talking about this topic that I’m fascinated by. All with people that I have a shared interest with, and something to talk about.
So pick topics you’re interested in.
2. Pre-plan the first thing you’re going to do when you get there.
Arriving in a room of people who are all chatting away as if they’ve known each other forever can be intimidating. When I was studying drama as an undergrad, we were taught to “cover our entrance” – give your character something to do as they’re entering the stage, so they don’t look awkward.
So, when I get to an event, I always get a drink – often it’s just water – and the activity of getting the drink gives me something to do, so I don’t feel lost. While I’m waiting for my drink, I glance around the room and get a sense of the people around me, the flow of the room, etc. It gives my mind a chance to adjust. And maybe I start chatting with someone else waiting for their drink.
3. Start a conversation with someone else who looks lost.
If I don’t know anyone at the event, I look around for someone who is standing alone, maybe looking like they’re by themselves – and I start with that person. This is purely protective – something inside me believes that, if they’re feeling as lost as I feel, they’re less likely to dismiss me. (While not foolproof, I’ve been more right than wrong on this one.)
I walk up to them, make some stupid small-talk comment about the room or the view, and get them chatting. Then I give them my name and they give me theirs. Next, I ask about their interest in the event (another reason to pick something other than a “networking” event), and we’re off to the races. My goal: to make them feel at ease and get them talking. That way, it’s not about me.
Networking is Helping Others
And that brings me back to Tiziana Casciaro’s lesson: reframe networking as an opportunity to help others.
When I first graduated from the company where I had grown up, I attended a lot of career workshops in an attempt to figure out what I wanted to do next. At one of these, they asked us to turn to the person next to us and introduce ourselves using a technique they had just taught us. When I did that, I met a charming woman who had just been laid off from the small business where she had worked her whole life.
After we did the assignment, we started chatting. “I can’t figure out LinkedIn,” she confided. “I opened an account but I don’t have any connections. And I don’t know what to do next.”
“Show me,” I said, and she pulled up LinkedIn on her phone. Yep, zero connections. “Put my name in the search bar…. Now, hit Connect.” And I accepted her invitation right there in front of her. “Now you have your first connection. I don’t have a lot of connections but if you see that I know someone who works somewhere that you want to know more about, send me a message, and I’ll make an introduction. Someday, maybe you’ll do the same for me. Getting started with LinkedIn is as simple as that. Just keep clicking Connect as you meet people.”
Sometimes the help you provide is not about professional help – sometimes it’s just about doing something kind for someone else.