Networking. The word alone can make you feel nauseated as you imagine having to meet and impress new people. You worry about making a good first impression or keeping a conversation going. When you imagine yourself at an event, you start to feel panicked. Ultimately, you might think, does anybody really like networking? Why do I have to do it?
Having to meet new people and sell yourself can be daunting, especially if you have social anxiety. It feels easier to just pass on opportunities to network, but doing so can prevent you from moving forward in your career or even your personal life. You’ll miss your opportunity to meet mentors, learn new ways of thinking, or make connections. Here are some ways you can enjoy the benefits of networking with less social anxiety:
- Prepare. As you begin networking more, your anxiety won’t go away immediately, so preparation will be key. Bring business cards so you can follow up with people you meet. Be mindful of what you eat or drink beforehand, especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Find specific events where you will be more likely to feel comfortable. Look into what type of people might be there so you can prepare questions. Set a goal – this helps structure your experience. Perhaps the goal is to stay for one hour or introduce yourself to five new people.
- Use context to start conversations. Networking is about connecting with new people, so keep in mind that many people are hoping, or even expecting, to meet new people. Asking questions based on the situation is a great way to begin a conversation with someone. If it’s a conference, you can ask what they’ve enjoyed so far or where they’re visiting from. And you can always fall back and ask about their job and company!
- Remember there are no perfect conversations. Meeting new people isn’t always easy and sometimes interactions can be a bit awkward, and that’s ok. Conversation is a two-way street – the success of it isn’t solely on your shoulders. If you’re not jiving with someone, you can simply let the conversation come to its natural conclusion and move on. It’s not the end of the world if a conversation doesn’t flow. Your career and reputation will survive. You will thrive when you find people you can connect with naturally.
- Try to avoid checking your phone. When networking, your phone is an easy distraction to hide your anxiety. You can appear busy with work and avoid others. Seeming busy might even keep others from talking to you. Yet, if you are able to resist the lure, it can have a huge payoff for your ability to connect with others. Others will feel more comfortable beginning a conversation with you and you will feel more open to meeting someone.
- Bring a friend. But don’t spend all of your time talking to only your friend. Sometimes having a buddy with you can help make it easier to join a conversation. Having a friend nearby can also help you feel like you have someone to go to when you need a break from meeting new people. Introducing your friend to other folks you meet and vice versa can also be a good way to keep the conversation flowing.
Don’t let your fear of networking keep you from reaching your full potential in your career. If you’re still unsure if you will be able to overcome your social anxiety around networking, you might consider looking into additional resources. Joyable’s online CBT program could help.
To learn more about how Joyable works, start a free trial. The techniques you learn and activities you complete can help you become more comfortable in situations that make you feel socially anxious.