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Dealing with Networking Nervosus

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By Gayle Hallgren-Rezac and Darcy Rezac

Dealing with Networking NervosusDo you think the only people who will read this article are going to be a handful of people who get anxious networking?  Well, here’s a news flash, 80% of the people we survey prior to teaching a workshop on Positive Networking® tell us they don’t like networking—they really don’t like networking!  So, you are reading this with a very large group of people.

Networking nervosus, our term for this behaviour, spans a spectrum ranging from mild anxiety and nervousness when faced with a new networking situation, to—more seriously—a phobic avoidance of the activity. Psychologist Jennifer Newman observes that networking nervosus is the common reaction when people have to interact with strangers. It is “some level of social anxiety which is often heightened by the setting.  Lots of strangers, a large crowd, noise and unfamiliar surroundings tend to increase anxiety.”  This fear of interpersonal interaction is often rooted in a fear of rejection or being negatively judged. Can you relate?

Cures for Networking Nervosus
There is good news for people grappling with networking nervosus. Fear associated with social anxiety and social phobia can be overcome. Psychological research shows that the skills required to become engaged and to succeed in the networking arena are learned skills.

Focus on the Other Person
Positive Networking®  focuses on discovering what we can do for others, with no direct expectation of anything in return. This style of networking assumes that all contacts are important and everyone should be treated equally, with dignity and respect. Whereas transactional networking is most often associated with referrals and sales, positive networking® focuses on relationships. It is based on building and maintaining trust and the relationships that flow from it.

In her practice, Dr. Newman suggests that we shift the focus off ourselves and onto others. That way we concentrate on what we can do for others by being empathic—stuffing ourselves in the other person’s shoes and showing we care.  When engaging someone in conversation, be one hundred percent focused on what they have are saying. Asking questions is the easiest way to keep the conversation going, and asking good questions is simple. All you have to do is care about the answer.  So that means being an empathetic listener.

Shut down the Obnoxious Roommate
Arianna Huffington calls that annoying voice in your head, the Obnoxious Roommate. You know that person Arianna is talking about, the one who is talking to you while you are trying to carry on a conversation. “I bet they don’t find you interesting.” “I get the feeling they don’t want to talk to you.”  “They want to talk to someone more important.”  Let’s be blunt, tell the Obnoxious Roommate to shut up. And since we all know, we are the Obnoxious Roommate, the key is to avoid self-denigrating comments and harping on our own shortcomings.

Combat self-criticism
Dr. Newman suggests rephrasing negative thoughts. Replace thoughts like, “Everyone thinks I’m foolish” with “I wonder what this person is interested in?”  Better messages to your inner self are, “I am here for a reason.” “I have something to contribute.”  “They may be feeling uncomfortable too.”  “What can I do to make this more pleasant and enjoyable for them?” “So, what’s the worst that can happen?” You will not be struck by lightning and the floor will open up, so it’s all good!

Prior to an event, instead of worrying about what bad things could happen, visualize on coping well with the upcoming networking situation.  Imagine walking into the room confidently, really enjoying yourself, meeting some interesting people and making others feel better simply by having met you. Yes, people can catch your positive emotional virus. It’s not some ‘New Age’ kind of thing, it is based on science and the research is fascinating. To learn more, read Building positive energy – Using mirror neurons for successful networking and Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence.

Find tools to help
Seek out training or counseling and find a mentor. Slaying the networking stress dragon can include obtaining training in social etiquette, counseling and perhaps joining Toastmasters™. Some people have used drama classes to boost their confidence and skill level. An excellent book for those with all kinds of social anxiety is Living Fully with Shyness and Social Anxiety: A Comprehensive Guide to Gaining Social Confidence by Erika B. Hilliard.

Don’t go it alone
We call them tag teammates, someone who goes to a networking event with you.  It’s the best Rx for networking nervosus.  A mentor or partner who circulates the networking pond with you can help ease the tension. But the goal is to be able to walk into a room solo and say to yourself, “Let me at ‘em!”  With practice, and some good tools you can do it.

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac is Vice-President of Marketing for the Shepa Learning Company, a training and development company. She is co-author of Work The Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Prentice Hall, 2005) with Darcy Rezac and Judy Thomson, available at Amazon.ca.
Darcy Rezac is Managing Director & Chief Engagement Officer, The Vancouver Board of Trade and Chief Executive, The Rix Center for Corporate Citizenship & Engaged Leadership. Visit The Pond at www.workthepond.com to sign up for a free weekly Positive Networking® tip.

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