Everyone says that you have to network to get ahead in business. Whether you are seeking new opportunities, starting a business, or trying to find new clients, you know you need to make connections.
If you’re an extrovert, networking is never a problem. If you’re introverted or shy, it is. Networking events make you anxious. You start the evening with high hopes, but end up feeling you didn’t present yourself or your business properly. Your shyness, fear, or self-doubt took over.
Shy? You’re not alone
More than 40% of people consider themselves shy or socially anxious, according to Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD. If you’re one of them, you are at a disadvantage when it comes to meeting people, he said in an interview with PsychCentral.
“Shyness is the fear of negative judgment,” writes Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution, which focuses on empowering introverts. It can be debilitating and hinder your success. The business culture loves the “alpha dog”—and shyness implies submissiveness, the opposite of alpha, she says.
Further, as Kathy Caprino points out on Women@Forbes, women in business often struggle to promote themselves. “One of the biggest challenges I see with professional women in particular is an inability (and deep fear and resistance) to talk about themselves in a glowing, positive way. They just don’t know how they’re talented, gifted and special…. They also fear that they’ll sound like a braggart,” she writes.
If you’re shy, how do you connect with people? You can:
- Go to a live event, and craft your story before you get there. Practice in front of a friend, pet, mirror, or wall.
- Attend something less stressful, such as a community event or a conference in your field.
- Host an event yourself—a goal-setting or discussion group, for instance.
- Use social media to interact in focused conversations with new people.
5 tips for less painful networking
If you’ll benefit the most and make better connections from live networking events, look for ways to make them less painful:
- Research the attendee list and pick one or two people you feel will be valuable to talk to. Message them ahead of time and ask for a few minutes to talk during the event.
- Pick diverse types of events, such as breakfast meet-and-greets or lunch-and-learns. A good mix of socializing and learning is always a great approach. Not everyone is comfortable in a loud happy-hour setting.
- Pretend you have a different personality for a while.
- Talk to someone who’s sitting alone.
- Volunteer at the event. Helping others can help you forget your fears.
How to face your shyness head-on
Easing your networking shyness will involve breaking down your fears and finding strategies for each one. For example:
- If “selling yourself” makes you sweat, don’t sell yourself. Create a fabulous business card and let it promote you. At the event, introduce yourself to one person and spend time having a conversation—about anything. Making one good connection is more valuable than collecting 20 meaningless business cards.
- If “I don’t like how I look” is on your mind, treat yourself to some staple pieces that will give you a bold presence. Get a sharp new outfit—that “power suit” or blazer or a statement piece that will make you stand out. Sure, it’s a surface solution, but looking good boosts your confidence.
- Search for groups with similar interests as you. If you’re passionate about a topic, speaker, or activity, it will be easier for you to talk about it with others.
One of the most empowering things you can do is to accept that you are introverted or shy and act anyway. Do what you fear, and congratulate yourself afterward.
Shyness is learned behavior—and can be unlearned. Yes, by anyone. “Maybe it’s time to rummage around in your psyche…to figure out what you’re scared of and how to change that,” suggests Sophia Dembling in “The Introvert’s Corner” in Psychology Today.
It will be an ongoing effort, and it may require outside help. But consider what your goals are and let them drive your efforts. Let 2018 be the year you overcome your fear of networking.
Start facing your networking fears today by registering for one of AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center events. WLC also offers virtual learning opportunities.