The Keys to Great Networking (if You’re a Shrinking Violet)

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Networking is something that, for so many people, can bring out a cold sweat. Lots of us can struggle with this all-important aspect of promoting ourselves. Many people in job interviews struggle to sell themselves because of a lack of confidence in their abilities, and, if anything, we all need to learn how to show ourselves off in this incredibly competitive world, which is why networking becomes an invaluable skill that we should all understand; here are the key facets of great networking:

Having a Plan

If there’s one misconception about networking, it’s that everyone in those settings has a natural ability to get on with others or to show themselves off. This is a very unhelpful mindset, especially amongst people who are envious of those individuals who effortlessly build bonds and relationships. 

Yes, there are some who have the ability to build excellent relationships, especially in professional settings, but it’s all predicated on a plan. When we attend places where we have to network or engage in conversation, it’s always beneficial to have a plan. In terms of professional networking, there are things that we can do to help build a far more positive impression of ourselves. It could be as simple as having a business card. Having small pieces of cards with quality printing that contain your information can be a simple way to stand out from the crowd. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being unique, and this is an excellent way to stick in the minds of people, but it’s about being unique for the right reasons. This is why you need to have a plan and ensure that you stick to it, especially if you feel that there are inherent weaknesses in how you present yourself. This brings us nicely to the next point…

Seek Real Feedback

When we ask others about how we come across, we tend to ask the people who are closest to us, and this can be the wrong approach. What we have to remember when we go to a networking event or any type of environment where we need to engage in conversation is that those people haven’t met us before, so we’ve got the perfect opportunity to reinvent our personalities. 

Seeking real feedback from different types of people can help us get a better picture of who we are and, more importantly, what our strengths are. You may be someone who is good at small talk but terrible at moving the conversation on. When people give you feedback about how you engage, it’s important to be aware of the environment in which you are seeking this feedback. This is why it might not be beneficial to ask people close to you about what your strengths are in a conversation. They’re only seeing you at your most relaxed, rather than your most professional. 

It’s also important to seek constructive criticism rather than feedback that breaks you down. It’s a very tough thing to seek out, and it may be even tougher to hear that there are aspects of your personality that are perceived as below average, but rather than using this as a reinforcement that you shouldn’t be doing these things, this becomes the perfect opportunity to build yourself back up. As a society, we, for some reason, try to avoid the negatives, and we think that it’s far better to cover our tracks. When it comes to building relationships, we have to be ourselves, but this doesn’t mean that we are fixed in any way. We can seek out feedback and understand what we should gradually fine-tune.

Incorporating the Right Tools

Once you understand where you need to bolster your capabilities, now is the time to slowly capitalise on your strengths and build up your weaknesses. Networking is, at the end of the day, about building a relationship with a person. Some of the most important facets of building strong relationships include:

Emotional Intelligence

This is essential for building good relationships and encompasses being aware of and managing your emotions as well as understanding and influencing the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence is something that we will naturally acquire through lived experiences, but we can recognise our emotions and name them, use emotions to make constructive decisions, work on empathy, develop social skills, practise active listening, and so much more.

Showing Respect and Appreciation

Appreciating others and respecting their time and contributions is absolutely pivotal to building relationships. The best leaders are widely known for making one person feel like the most important person in the room. If you are someone who is highly stressed and you have to deal with a number of different things at the same time, it can be overwhelming to dedicate such focus on one person when there’s so many other things percolating in your mind, and this is why learning to be in the present moment is so important because it helps you focus on them. 

Learning how to increase your concentration can help here if you struggle in environments with lots of people, but ultimately, if you appreciate others and respect their contributions, this will make a powerful impression on them. In networking, many people make the mistake of thinking they should impress people of seniority, and no doubt you’ve encountered people who are looking over your shoulder, consciously or not. Respect and appreciation are vital.

Effective Communication

Ultimately, good relationships rely on open, honest, and professional communication. Learning tools like active listening but focusing on what people say are the bare basics. The keys to great communication are many, including planning your message and rehearsing how you will deliver it to create clarity. You should also remember that you choose your words carefully to improve the quality of your communication while also understanding non-verbal cues like tone of voice and body language. 

When you strive to deepen connections with others, always think about greeting, asking, complementing, and disclosing. These four things allow you to create human contact, discover the unknown, affect other people’s sense of self in a positive way, and create far better relationships in the long run.

Setting and Respecting Boundaries

If you want to maintain healthy relationships, you need to let others know what is appreciated and respect each other’s needs and limits. When engaging with people that you do not know, it’s far better to slowly gauge a situation by recognising their personal and professional boundaries.

Improving Your Confidence

If we look to network or to have conversations with others, we instantly send a signal to others as to whether we are worthy or not of their time. Improving our confidence is something that will gradually develop over months and years, but we need to be very aware of our mindset when we go into these types of situations. Learning to deliver the complete package is overwhelming, and this is why we need to use little tricks to ensure that we get into the right frame of mind:

  • Avoid using negative phrases because they can program your mind in a negative way. Instead, find reasons to smile and laugh. 
  • Get into your body and out of your head. Doing this will ensure that you stop thinking about how you genuinely look in these environments.
  • Present yourself because ultimately if you want to look professional, it’s about ensuring you dress in the right ways.
  • Focus on posture as well because this will help make you feel better in your own body (check out this TED talk by Amy Cuddy for more insight).
  • Try positive self-talk as this will also reprogram your mind.

It is a tough mountain to climb when we don’t perceive ourselves as having the skills to build relationships with others, but we are all capable of doing it. Sometimes it’s just a case of getting out of our own way!

Sarah x

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