My idea of good networking is streaming Jessica Jones without buffering. Sadly, this article is about the other kind. As a communications educator, I’ve attended countless socials, happy hours, and receptions in the name of networking- and I’ve loathed most of them. If you’re on the introverted and/or nerdy side, you probably do too. The concept that mixing people, appetizers, and alcohol will make opportunities appear is well…silly. So, I’m happy to report- I’ve solved the problem. Here’s how to create successful connections without networking:
Nope. Sorry-couldn’t do it. With an estimated 60-80 percent of jobs going unadvertised, networking is indispensable. Technology facilitates, social media maintains, but real connection happens in person. If you freelance the need is even stronger. However, by looking at common trouble spots, I can help make networking rock suck less.
Problem: Networking events seem…just wrong
Solution: Pick better events
Everything is potential networking, so rather than suffer through socials, focus on things you enjoy. SHE meetups, Cons, crafting groups, and even fitness classes are good candidates. The best part-you already have shared interests which eases conversations and connection.
Problem: You struggle to join conversations with strangers
Solution: Make the right bid
Psychologist John Gottman says relationship success is a balance of bids for attention that are either accepted or refused. Refusal strains relationships, and weak connections intensify that consequence. When you stand at the edge of a conversation waiting to join, you’re bidding. If a group doesn’t open for you, the bid is refused, and you feel rejected.
Instead of bidding, rescue a bidder. Find people on the edges of conversational spaces. Say, “Hi… I don’t know anyone here, can I join you?” Then, keep your posture open and angled out. This communicates both invitation, and permission to leave so your engagement is low risk. Instead of awkwardly playing Pluto, you’ve created a safe oasis in an otherwise intimidating space.
Problem: You HATE small talk
Solution: Cultivate real conversation
You have people… now what? Because we avoid rocking conversational boats with new people, and because popular media keeps telling us that women talk too much (BTW-we don’t), boring, stilted small talk results. This particularly annoys geeks who’d rather be playing Fallout 4 (where conversations yield XP). The solution? Give people permission to geek out. Rather than search for something to say, think of something to ask. Everyone has a story worth hearing.
By showing interest and encouragement, conversations will quickly deepen. This technique also builds your ‘excellent listener’ reputation, which is always a win!
Problem: We minimize our accomplishments
Solution: Talk about the work
The goal of networking is to form mutually beneficial relationships. You must promote yourself as someone worth knowing. Self-promotion is hard, and we’re taught boasting is for mean girls. As a result, we use less powerful language when discussing accomplishments. Doing this reduces your perceived value as someone worth knowing. One such verbal habit involves qualifiers like ‘only’ and ‘just’. For example, “I’m a professor, but just at a community college.” (yes, I’ve done it too).
Stop that, right now. Kill qualifiers by changing the focus. If you can’t promote yourself, talk about the work you do, and why it matters. In my case, “I’m a community educator that helps students improve their communication skills.” Now, I’m focused on my students and teaching, two things I can talk about all day.
If you are transitioning to a new gig, don’t minimize! “I’m an accountant who wants to be a writer,” is less effective than, “I’m working on a book to help kids learn about money.” Words have power-use them wisely.
Problem: We only connect through social media
Solution: Reach out and ask
After an event, I struggle following through with the folks I’ve met. While I’ve dutifully written notes on the back of collected business cards, I mostly just friend or follow them and call it good, after all, I don’t want to impose.
Social media makes it easy to feel connected without actually connecting. Good relationships aren’t built by ‘likes’ alone; they require social exchange to grow. Social Exchange Theory states that healthy relationships are balanced and reciprocal. This is why you buy beer for people who help you move.
In networking, the easiest way to create exchange is to make a small request. Fulfilling easy asks (like an article link) lets the new contact feel helpful, and leaves an open balance on the exchange. Don’t forget to always respond with a short thank you note and fulfill the return request quickly when asked.
Finally, look at networking as an exercise in community building. For a place to start, come to a SHE meetup! We’re happy to join your world-changing network. If there is no SHE in your area, click here to start a chapter. We have mountains to move ladies-let’s get to it.
Lisa Pavia-Higel is a St. Louis based writer, educator and performer. By day, she’s a mild mannered Communication and Media professor at a local community college. By night, she’s a stage combat fighting, jewelry making, comic reading, critique writing, productivity advice giving powerhouse. She also loves trying things that she’s really not very good at, like sewing, painting and writing succinct biographies. She is indulged by her little geeklet Sofia and intrepid feminist, geeky husband Matthew. She’s too long winded for Twitter, but you can tweet her @lisamariepavia.
Lisa Pavia-Higel is a St. Louis based writer, educator and performer. By day, she’s a mild mannered Communication and Media professor at a local community college and runs her own small jewelry company, Geekery Gal. By night, she’s a stage combat fighting, comic reading, critique writing, productivity advice giving mama. She loves trying things that she’s really not very good at, like sewing, painting and writing succinct biographies. She is indulged by her little geeklet Sofia and intrepid feminist, geeky husband Matthew. She’s too long winded for Twitter, but you can tweet to her at @geekerygal