“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” -Robert Kiyosaki
You’ve been there before: about to walk into a room full of unknown people and scared to death. Your eyes, sweaty palms, increased heart rate, paralysis to walk into the room and lump in your throats are all symptoms of fear. You want to control the fear, and know “rationally” that you are overreacting. Not only that, you know that your fear is keeping you from important business and even personal development opportunities and that you are undermining yourself by failing to overcome the fear. Though our desire might be flight, the only way to overcome the fear is to face it and fight. Here are a few tips on how to step outside your comfort zone and make a real go of the networking experience regardless of your reason for networking.
First, you should know that your brain is going to help you through this experience. From a scientific point of view, the release of fear-related hormones into the bloodstream is designed to increase physical reaction time and improve the acuity of the senses. Indeed, it’s meant to be positive. If you harness the good part of the fear reaction, you are going to have an edge, an openness and a sharpness that will help you succeed. What you need to do it find the tools to overcome the natural release of chemicals from your frontal lobe that are causing the reaction. Here are some practical tips. Try them and see an immediate alleviation of fear and opening to act differently.
- Be Open to New People and Experiences. The Secret: Come from a place of curiosity. This means not focusing on yourself but on others. Don’t think of these beings as strangers to whom you have to prove anything. Instead, ask them questions about themselves. Early in my career, long before I had degrees, I often felt intimidated by those who had more experience and initials after their names. What would they think of me when compared with their experience? I went back to basics: most people love to talk about themselves. My answer: go armed with questions to direct at other people. It worked every time.
- Network for different things. The secret: Not all networking happens in a professional setting. You don’t need to go to a “networking event” per se to gain great networking results. If you like to run, find a running group. Or try the women in your book club or on a Board. I’ve found this “open-ended” networking method to be the most helpful.
- Always be cognizant of your relationship with people. The secret: Treat people as they want to be treated and not the way you want to be treated. We are all different. This means reading the other person – not projecting your way of thinking onto them. A sales person learns to assess each individual and approach them with a particular type of sales pitch. If you like a soft-sell approach but meet someone who likes direct in your face confrontation, give them an all out networking sales pitch.
- Relationships are a two-way street. You can ask for things and give things. The secret: Be generous with your time, energy and knowledge. Listen carefully to what the other is asking of you. If you meet someone who needs an accountant, and you know an accountant, then arrange for them to meet even if it won’t lead directly to a business opportunity for you. What goes around comes around. “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Keith Ferrazzi
- Be authentic and find the networking roles that work for you. The secret: Networking happens 24/7. If there are people around you, then there is also a networking opportunity. Networking need not be a formal process. I have clients because I met them at the gym, yoga class and even at a restaurant. Look at each encounter with a new person as a potential opportunity.
Your job in life and in business is to make your life a fulfilling one. That often means overcoming that visceral fear of walking into a room of people and taking the first steps. You can do it!