You Schmooze, You Lose? Be Good At Networking Without Really Trying
You Schmooze, You Lose? Networking is an intrinsic part of professional life – as a term, it conjures up images to slick executives, quickly and efficiently “working a room” to identify which “contacts” will be most useful to them, and the high-tech connectivity of the internet. As a result, it sounds technical and specialised – something that requires time, effort, and dedicated training to master. This can be quite intimidating; how can you take part in a “networking” event, and get what you need from it, if you haven’t been taught how to “network” properly? This sort of anxiety is only natural, and fuels a cottage industry in networking seminars, books, and workshops. But the truth about networking effectively is not that there is a hard way, and an easy way – but that trying hard actually makes for ineffective networking.
Networking is a modern word, for the modern world. But in truth, “networking” just refers to something that humans have done since time immemorial – that is, building relationships around areas of common interest. In terms of what people are actually doing at networking events – that is, meeting new people, catching up with existing acquaintances, and talking about one another’s lives – there is not all that much difference between a “networking event” and a party. Jargon aside, arguably the main thing that marks out networking as a distinct type of activity is the fact that it involves a specific set of goals; it is socialising with intent. But the same could equally be said about any social event, even if the only goal most of us have is to have a good time and meet interesting people.
The idea that networking is something apart from everyday socialising is simply helpful reminder about which goals we should be focussing on at professional events; that is, professional ones. But some people take this too far and put those professional goals above basic politeness, coming across as false, smarmy, and overconfident. People who do this simply come across as trying too hard, and this can be quite off-putting. If you’re expending all your effort on adhering to a rigid model of what good networking looks like, you won’t be paying attention to the people around you. They will be able to sense your artifice, and may well reject it.
Having been sent to private school as a teenager, I was given a lot of opportunities to attend social functions, and I was actively coached on how to behave. The thing we were told, time and time again, was to relax. If you are relaxed, then those around you will be inclined to relax too – and they will instantly warm to your company. Being relaxed also creates something else – the impression of confidence. Confidence is often treated as crucial to effective networking, and so people often feel like they need to puff themselves up to impress their self-regard upon others. But this sort of confidence can easily rankle those around you. Far more impressive is the quiet confidence of someone who is calmly and easily talking with those around them. Socialising comes naturally to most of us, and so we tend to do better at it when we’re relaxed.
One trick for relaxing at networking events, and projecting the sort of quiet confidence that is so helpful in those spaces, is to reject the idea that a networking event is something special. Imagine that it’s just a group of people who share your interests – for that is all it is, after all – and then treat it as such. Once you’ve relaxed into the space, bringing up your professional interests and pursuing your particular goals will come much more easily. Start to schmooze and you won’t lose.