Networking: no need to panic
More than just a few of us are uncomfortable with networking. We want to connect with others, but for many this means leaving the safe but ‘lonely’ comfort zone.
Networking is important in the professional world, whether directly for work or for personal career development. Yet many people groan at the mention of the topic. Reactions like "I hate small talk", "I don't like asking for favours" or "I don't know what to say to an important person" indicate a blocking approach to networking.
At Forum cinfo 2022, a theatre group helped participants to experience first-hand the obstacles that prevent them from communicating with others and the tools that can help them.
Let's look at two scenarios we are familiar with and the different approaches to each, as enacted at the Forum.
A recent graduate meets the manager of an organisation he’s interested in
The graduate feels inferior and wants to counteract these feelings with a well-prepared overview of himself in order to impress the head of the organisation. Of what?
The graduate's approach to this situation may be based on the misunderstanding that he will immediately get something concrete, such as a job. But the experienced manager needs a break. After a particularly busy day, she wants to relax in an informal way.
A monologue from the graduate will not energise her, but a chat about mutual interests might. As social beings, we thrive when we feel a connection. It could be a mutual acquaintance, a place or even the chocolate served with the coffee, the origin of which you both know.
Nice, but not terribly useful, you might think? In fact, there is no guarantee of immediate tangible benefits from such a conversation. However, if both parties are engaged in the discussion, the manager will stay talking longer and is more likely to give further information (e.g. the name of another contact) or remember the graduate later.
Scenario 2: Joining an ongoing conversation
Two people who obviously know each other are talking at a bar table. You join them, but they continue their lively conversation. So, what do you do without coming across as clumsy? Run away? Possibly, but you've already been standing there for a while and you want to make a connection.
Let's consider the perspective of the two conversing parties. Presumably, they are not fundamentally averse to getting to know someone else. Yet, an interruption could be disruptive. It's important to fit in harmoniously by building on something that connects you. Initially, this can even be banal. Once the connection has been made, other topics can be brought up "safely".
A few tips
Make an initial connection, followed by the content
- Trust that you have something interesting to offer
- Find a connection with the other person
- Recognise and build on the other person's cues to do so
- Go with the flow of the conversation
- Remember that the other person needs to feel safe too