Updated: Feb 14, 2019
I made a commitment last year I would step out of my comfort zone and start attending networking events, but as I began researching fear would creep up, and I exit networking sites. The reason I was so afraid, is that I didn’t want to attend them by myself due to the fact networking made me feel uncomfortable and phony. Although some people have a natural passion for it—namely, the extroverts who love and thrive on social interaction—I understandably saw it as brown-nosing, exploitative, and inauthentic. But in today’s world, networking is a necessity. A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more jobs and business opportunities, broader and more in-depth knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improve the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.
After researching the benefits of networking, I’ve identified four strategies to help you change your mindset.
1. Focus on Learning
Most people have a dominant motivational focus—what psychologists refer to as either a “promotion” or a “prevention” mindset. Those in the former category think primarily about the growth, advancement, and accomplishments that networking can bring them, while those in the latter see it as something they are obligated to take part in for professional reasons.
Concentrate on the positives—how it’s going to help you boost the knowledge and skills that are needed in your job—and the activity will begin to seem much more worthwhile.
2. Identify Common Interests
The next step in making networking more palatable is to think about how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet and how that can help you forge meaningful working relationships. When your networking is driven by substantive, shared interests you’ve identified through serious research, it will feel more authentic and meaningful and is more likely to lead to relationships that have those qualities too.
3. Think Broadly About What You Can Give
Even when you do not share an interest with someone, you can probably find something valuable to offer by thinking beyond the obvious. Of course, this isn’t always easy. When you think more about what you can give to others than what you can get from them, networking will seem less self-promotional and more selfless—and therefore more worthy of your time.
4. Find a Higher Purpose Any work activity becomes more attractive when it’s linked to a higher goal. So frame your networking in those terms. Many if not most of us are ambivalent about networking. We know that it’s critical to our professional success, yet we find it taxing and often distasteful. These strategies can help you overcome your aversion. By shifting to a promotion mindset, identifying and exploring shared interests, expanding your view of what you have to offer, and motivating yourself with a higher purpose, you’ll become more excited about and effective at building relationships that bear fruit for everyone.