Why You’re Not Alone in Dreading Networking - And How to Turn Your Mindset Around
February 28, 2023
Networking is always a hot topic - one fraught for many with obligations, aspirations, and generalized anxiety. We’ve gathered the best advice of seven connection-making mavens wielding experience ranging from consulting to law to tech, luxury fashion, healthcare, and more, and will bring their insights to you over the next month.

First, breathe a sigh of relief: you’re not the only one who dreads “networking.” The term seems universally anxiety-inducing.

“I think the word ‘networking’ puts people off. Similar to the word ‘sales.’” Says Alice Myerhoff, Founder and Principal of Myerhoff Consulting. “It sounds scary but really it's the human condition...people trying to connect with each other, it's just in a business context instead of a book club or trying to meet a romantic partner.”

Our other experts agree. “Traditionally, ‘networking’ has the classic "what's in it for me" connotation, and we all know how that ends up,” relates Founder and CEO of Child Life on Call, Katie Taylor. Jean Poh, CEO of modern, luxury jewelry house, CADAR, agrees. “To be honest, I'm not fond of the term ‘networking’ because we've all developed such an aversion to what traditional networking typically entails.” She continues, “Rather, the process is intended to be about human connection. It's about meeting someone, listening, finding a spark that excites you, embarking on a journey to discover each other and what can be co-created and experienced together, and then nurturing good relationships over the long term. I believe the problem is that most people take a transactional approach to networking and are looking to see who they can meet and what they can get out of them. It makes everyone feel like prey.”

The implication behind the term might be one of large events, conferences, or other - often stilted - happy hour or coffee chat type opportunities. Caitlin Yates, Chief Communications Officer of DataXstream, clarifies that the connotation likely explains the negative undercurrent of the term. “I think many people hate events because it is too much. Too many people, too much energy, too public.”

“Traditional networking events fail because it feels like speed dating with the hope of getting married. For example, a programmer meets a random PR person with no one there to introduce them or to instigate the possible connection between the two.” Shii Ann Huang, a leading New York realtor (and Survivor: Thailand and Survivor: All Stars alum), expounds. “Most networking events fail in missing a coordinator or a host who might work the room and be able to introduce people who may be able to help one another in a more targeted way. My advice is to get to know people without the specific intent of closing a deal - or to use the speed dating analogy - to go in with joy and an open mind rather than with the hope of finding the love of your life.”

Here’s the good news: you can make the experience far more enjoyable and fruitful!

“Networking is a long-term investment in yourself and your career. For some people in some roles, there’s a clear capital raising, sales or business development benefit to networking, but even for people whose jobs are more internally-focused, networking provides strong protection. Pretty much everyone needs to find a new job at some point in their careers, whether it’s to get out of a bad situation, move up the corporate ladder, or recover from a mass layoff. It’s so much easier to do with a strong network.” Randi Mason, Partner, Co-Chair, and Attorney at Morrison Cohen, continues. “Networking also provides access to important insight and expertise. Every business’ needs are constantly changing. Twenty years ago nobody needed a social media strategy; five years ago most companies didn’t need to know best practices for a hybrid workplace; six months ago the majority of businesses didn’t need to address generative AI. Having a strong network gives you access to professionals in all different sectors so when new developments come along you have experts to tap into. Networking is about intentionally building relationships with people outside of your existing social circle. Think of it as an opportunity to get to know different people. There are so many interesting, intelligent people out there and networking helps you find them.”

In networking, as in much of life, perspective is everything. “Let's call it relationship-building, discovery, or even play. Look for people who light you up and see how you can play with them, focusing on common interests, fun, enjoyment, and co-creation,” says Jean Poh. “You'll see how quickly that shifts your mindset and once you shift your energy people will respond differently to you and you'll attract a different type of person. Turn the focus off of yourself. Often people who don't enjoy going to events dislike it because it makes them feel self-conscious, or perhaps it's that they feel others always want something from them. Focus on others. How many people can you genuinely connect with? How can you add value to someone else? Turn it into a game. Find a reason to go that's bigger than business purposes. Enjoy the process of connecting with other humans rather than focus on hunting down someone that can be useful to you. If you still can't get past the struggle then don't go. Forcing yourself to do something out of obligation rarely produces positive results because your energy will be off and others can feel it. Instead, be kind to yourself and do something you enjoy.”

Katie Taylor says this shift from pressure to curiosity is key. “For me, networking is more about getting curious about how another investor/leader/entrepreneur is learning and growing.”

Laurie Barlev, Head of Business Operations at Papaya Global, supports the move away from obligation and pressure as well–along with having a few go-to questions for the first awkward moments. “To decrease the pressure on ourselves, I would suggest we think about networking in a similar way we would be about making friends. I approach each interaction with a genuine interest in getting to know the other person. These days there is enough information on LinkedIn to get a sense of most people and things that you may be able to ask about. You should be able to find something you can ask the person about - where they are from, where they live, what they think of their university, how the weather has been… You should always have a few good ice breaker topics to ask anyone. If you are networking for a job or a sale, do your homework so that you know what you think will be the best questions to ask (versus get-to-know-you questions). I go back to the idea that it is about meeting people and possibly finding some kind of connection with another person. The first few seconds are generally the hardest so make sure you have a few good questions to pull out of your back pocket.”

Increasing focus on the other people in the room may help any anxieties subside. “True relationships are built on giving and getting,” says Katie Taylor. She continues, “I notice that I get way more out of a new relationship when I'm the one listening rather than talking.”

Shii Ann Huang agrees. “It's an opportunity to meet and connect people together who would otherwise not be able to meet via their immediate circles. Rather than thinking of how other people can benefit us, think of how you can connect people to one another.”

Lauren Lyddon has helped people and organizations to tell their stories for more than a decade. Having tested her love of the creative through the pursuit of an MBA and undergraduate business degrees, she is a writer, editor, and lover of fiction in all its forms (especially theatre, well-written television, and novels). A West coast resident often operating on an East coast schedule, Lauren uses her business background and love of story to serve clients in writing, editing, PR, and more. You can visit her online at L2crtv.com.



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