Nursing Your Networking Nerves

Wednesday 7th April 2010 04:48pm
By Jasmine Russell

Lisa Butler, Paragon AssociatesWe've all come across those inept networkers – pushing their business or themselves onto unsuspecting people in an attempt to meet their own needs. Unfortunately, these people have given networking a bad name, and turned many people off in the process.

If you find the concept of networking distasteful, take heart – you are not alone. Many people are hesitant to network, which is a shame, considering how powerful networking can be. If practiced effectively, networking can be an extremely valuable business, career, leadership and personal development tool. It can save you time, money, stress and make you more productive.

Over the past few years, and with the growth in particular of online networking (the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter spring to mind), networking is becoming more and more significant. But how can we take advantage of the opportunities that networking provides if we don't feel comfortable with it in the first place?

My intention in this article is to prove to you that you can significantly reduce your stress levels when networking, and as a result feel more confident and comfortable and achieve greater value from networking.

I will do this by:
1. Busting some of the common myths about networking which generate hesitancy to network,
2. Discussing how to build your networking skills to increase your confidence and chances of success.

1. Busting the Myths

Below are some of most common myths which I believe create networking hesitancy in many people. Bust these myths, and you will feel more confident when networking, and be able to develop the skills to be more successful.

Myth #1: Networking is selling.
Successful networkers know that the true nature of networking is developing and maintaining genuinely helpful relationships with others. They also know that the focus should be on finding ways to help others. People who focus on selling themselves or their services are taking a short term approach and do not understand the true nature of networking. They will receive negative reactions from those they network with.

Myth #2: You don’t need to build relationships because you are an expert.
Technical ability is the ticket to the game but it doesn‟t mean you will win. Be careful not to make assumptions about why people will buy your services. Don‟t assume that your technical ability speaks for itself and should be enough to get you business. Relationships are key to business success, and networking can help the work come in the door more easily!

Myth #3: It’s pointless to follow up unless there is actual business to discuss.
If you network well, you would have created an opportunity to follow up that is more focused on helping the other person rather than you. This makes it much easier, and less stressful, to follow up appropriately. It‟s also important to recognise that you don‟t always have to have a reason to catch up with people. People accept networking at face value, as long as they can see that you are genuinely interested in helping them.

Myth #4: Networking ability is innate, not learned.
Networking ability is not necessarily innate. Some of the best networkers I have ever met are highly introverted. Networking doesn‟t come naturally for everyone, and it is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice.

Myth #5: Networking is a waste of time – you never get results.
Accept that networking is a long term proposition. Attending networking events is only one avenue to build relationships, and it is what you do afterwards that makes up the majority of your networking effort. Take a strategic approach to networking, and you will find that you are more likely to attend the right things, network with the right people, and maintain contact with those people with ease.

Bust these myths in your own mind and you will find it will be easier to network effectively.
Your barriers to networking can be overcome if you are aware of them, and learn how to address them through learning the skills and techniques of networking, some of which are mentioned below.

2. Building the skills of good networkers

From my research and experience, I have noted that successful networkers effortlessly and confidently meet people, manage conversations, find ways to help people and follow up and maintain contact in an appropriate manner.

They seem to possess four core characteristics. They:
1. have a networking strategy, and keep effective records to track, monitor and maintain regular contact with the people in their network
2. focus on helping others, rather than themselves
3. are genuinely interested in other people and generate positive and memorable impressions
4. interact well with a wide range of people and develop warm and valuable relationships in a short space of time.

I have good news for you - these skills and characteristics can be learned through observation, awareness of techniques and tools, practice, and patience. They will also significantly reduce the amount of time you need to spend networking and selling your business, and the stress involved!

So how can you develop these characteristics? There are many tips and techniques covered in my book. However, here are a couple of tips to get you started (and they don't take a lot of time!):

a) Take a strategic approach. Many people network haphazardly, attending random events with the wrong people. This is a waste of your time, and adds to your burden. It is important to consider why you are networking, and what you hope to achieve from it. Build networking strategies into your business plan, so that you can be certain that you are networking in the right way, in the right places and with the right people to help you achieve your business goals.
You should be spreading your networking effort across a range of different activities with different people. Many people tend to focus their networking efforts on their existing clients – and whilst they are important it is critical you also network with prospective clients, referral sources, advisors and others.

There is so much more to networking than just attending events. This is an avenue to meet people or maintain relationships, however networking is so much more than that. Most of your time in networking should be spent keeping in contact, connecting people, and finding opportunities to help the people in your network.

b) Prepare well. Fortunately, much of your preparation can be delegated (reducing your burden!). Preparation can reduce your networking hesitancy as you will feel more confident and in control. Prepare by conducting some research before you go (for example on the event, the speaker, the people who will be there, current events, industry related information). You can then consider who you want to meet or catch up with, and have some conversation topics and questions to ask. Be prepared physically as well – if you don't look or feel ready to go, chances are you will not look like you really want to be there.

c) Get your Mindset right. If you think positively in any situation you increase your chances of success. As Martin Seligman points out in his book Learned Optimism, people can learn to think optimistically and reap the benefits (Seligman, 1991). Seligman's research showed that you can control your thinking to enhance optimism and reduce pessimism.

Seligman, and also the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Minnesota YOUA) have found that people who are positive, optimistic and have a sense of humour, have healthier, longer and more successful personal and career lives. Interestingly they have fewer heart attacks, a boosted immune system, reduced pain and stress, they live up to 8-10 years longer than their pessimistic colleagues, and they perceive themselves to be happy (Seligman, 1991; Maruta, Colligan & Malinchoc et al, 2000).

When networking be aware of the thoughts that just pop into your head telling you that you “shouldn't go to this networking event because you are tired/overworked/don't feel like it”, or that “it will just be a waste of time” or “I'm not good at these things”.These inner voices often determine the outcome before you even head off to the event. If these voices take over, chances are you will unconsciously display your true thoughts and feelings through your energy and your demeanour.

In summary:

  • Successful networking can maximize your success in your business, career, and personal life
  • Many people are hesitant to network, or network inappropriately, due to common 'myths' about the nature of networking
  • Networking is about building and maintaining genuinely helpful relationships with others
  • You should not be selling when you are Networking
  • Networking is a life skill as well as a business skill, and it is a skill which can be learned
  • Networking should be approached in a strategic manner – you need to consider where you network and who with, and manage your network and keep in contact
  • Focus on finding ways to help others
  • There are a range of tips and techniques to make it easier.

Maruta, T (MD), Colligan, R, Malinchoc, M, Offord K. Optimists vs pessimists: survival rate amoung medical patients over a 30-year period. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2000; 75:315-318.
Seligman, Martin. 1991, Learned Optimism, Simon and Schuster, New York

Lisa Butler, Paragon Associates

Post by Lisa Butler
Director, Paragon Associates Pty Ltd
Author, “Networking Exposed: Discover the secrets of business networking”
Posted in