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Seven questions to help you overcome networking nerves

I have a passion for people to be comfortable in the workplace, whoever they are. There are challenges sometimes and I’m keen to help you break them down.

Many years ago, I had to start networking. It wasn’t phrased as such, but I nevertheless felt very uncomfortable. I had never been shown how networking works best nor what it really was about. It was a “just do it” kind of scenario. Standing there in a room full of strangers who I would not normally choose to be with, I had to somehow find the courage to talk to them.

Several years on, in my role as coach, I frequently hear how people are nervous about networking – whether this is internally in their organisation or with external individuals. The word “networking” sends shivers through them as it did for me.

What then is this phenomenon, “networking”? It has been defined as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts”.

Rather than think of it as this process, I used to stumble over what to say to someone I had never met before; I assumed I had nothing relevant to say to the other important people in the room let alone it be an exchange of information. I assumed I was being judged - negatively. I believed others in the room had no interest in talking to me. I would feel my chest tighten and my mind go crazy seeking ideas of what topics to discuss.

I hear this time and time again from clients at all stages of their career. As a young adult working in my twenties, I also assumed that anyone older than me was a natural at networking. I believed I was not a natural and nor did I have the skill to become adept at it. In fact, I told myself repeatedly – as do so many of us – that I hate networking. It would unnecessarily eat into my times, my precious evenings when I would rather be at dinner with friends or at home watching a movie.

Does this sound familiar?

Everything that was going on for me, was in my head. I made up that I hated networking (I had heard bosses say this too and maybe this rubbed off onto me), I created the thought that it was pointless or difficult. I made assumptions that I was not proficient at networking and that others would see through me and judge me. I made many assumptions in my own mind. I then believed all of this to be true. Believing all the negative thoughts about networking showed up in my behaviour or body language. I recall how my voice slightly trembled as I feared talking to a senior executive. I walked more slowly around the room or avoided people by getting a drink instead.

What I know now, I wish someone had told me in my twenties. As you progress in your career, networking may be a very real part of your career strategy for progression or even retention.

So here are my thoughts for you. Ask yourself:

1. What are my beliefs or assumptions about networking?

2. Where do these thoughts come from?

3. If I believe negative things about networking, how helpful is that to me or my career?

4. How true are the beliefs or assumptions?

5. Where have I met someone new, spoken to them, and it all be fine?

6. How willing am I to be non-judgmental of myself and the process of networking (exchanging information) from now on?

7. What else can I now do myself to understand how to get the most out of networking?

Mindset is responsible for so much of how we feel and show up in a room. Therefore, my top three tips are:

1. Challenge your thinking now and again to ensure the beliefs (or fears) are really true or just thoughts. Thoughts are not always true facts.

2. Go into networking with an open mind.

3. Many people feel nervous; therefore, think about networking as an opportunity to make others more comfortable and to potentially make a new friend.

Number three here may seem impossible. However, from the fearful twenty seven year old that I was, I have gone on to not only attend numerous networking events, I am invited to podcasts, interviews, talks, facilitations and I established 2 networking groups chaired by myself. I deliver webinars and presentations to audiences I do not know. It took a little courage and self-belief but largely a change in my mindset about what networking is. As soon as I understood that others were just like me, I saw it as an opportunity to be myself.

What happened next? People gravitated towards me!

I’m Anita Gohil-Thorp, a Career and Life Coach, Former London Lawyer, Wellbeing Advocate, Mental Health First Aider, Diversity Specialist but most of all, passionate about people attaining optimum happiness in life, work and relationships.

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