The Awkardness of Networking

courtesy google images

Social interaction is necessary for human health.  Studies support that it enhances mood, brain development and can decrease blood pressure along with a plethora of other health benefits.  Studies also support that social interaction is necessary for business development. Making memberships to chambers, support groups, private clubs and networking ensembles a necessity to thrive in business.  Social interaction may decrease blood pressure, but the anxiety of finding common ground during a 30-second elevator pitch can trigger nervous knots for any professional attending the initial networking gathering.

When attending networking events, not to mention the primary reason for joining professional groups, the end game is to schmooze; building awareness of one’s business and services offered for commerce, building a client base,  increasing profit. And of course, we all want instant gratification, acknowledgment, instant love and sales from that one interaction.  Yet our basic human need to belong to a “tribe” (please don’t get me started on that buzz word) and social interaction with others becomes awkward and almost inhuman during networking gatherings.  If you ever sit back and watch the interactions, it becomes quite comical.  This is a typical network event.

One enters, registers, and walks in to a sea of unfamiliar faces.  We glance the room like the Terminator.

Subject identified.

Subject unknown.

Continue scanning.

 

We are looking and searching for the individual that we visually assess is most like us.  Because when we want to be a part of a tribe (oh that word), we want to fit in. That’s simple human nature.  When we first meet someone, we are looking for who we relate to. Think about it.  At a cookout, a social networking event, a wedding.  We arrive to table 9, assess the people, and sit accordingly based on who we feel at first sight we can connect with.  Then the social awkwardness of discovering that common bond occurs.  That bond can happen instantly or painfully, never.

We will “engage” in conversation, stand with our head tilted, ear closest to the person speaking yet our bodies are angled outward, and our eyes will scan the room for the people we want to meet next.  When we do this, we are non-verbally sending a message that we are not committed to the conversation.  Shameless business plug follows.

Slone Solutions specializes in leadership and communication development. We provide consulting services to enhance leadership messaging and employee engagement. We often don’t realize how we effect our own messaging. What we say and how we say it, with tone and body language, impacts our message significantly more than the words we speak. The non-verbal element influences our message more than words or our tone.

Our message and how we present ourselves is key. That first impression is why someone walked over to say “hello” in the first place.  Yet, when we first meet someone that message can become discombobulated because we are so worried about ourselves, our agenda, our message, and if we are going to connect with the person in front of us.  There are countless thoughts that occur within milliseconds when we first meet someone, which is also why we forget a person’s name within 5 to 7 seconds of meeting them.  In my book, “How to Suck at Leadership: You are Nailing This” (release date TBD), I go into further detail about how our personalities and emotions can impact our communications.  Yet for the sake of blog brevity, let’s return to the image of a networking event and look at the bubbled thoughts over people’s heads.

If you recall, we’re standing, angled, open body language; communicating that others are welcome to join the conversation, while scanning the room for the next person to meet.  If there were thought bubbles over people’s heads they would read, “please, please join this conversation.  I don’t know how to exit.” Or “how do I step away? Not connecting here.”  “Did I forget to feed the dogs? This is so awkward.” “I’ll just check my cell phone for texts.” Yes, I just wrote that out loud!

So, for myself when attending network events, I like to lean on the personal element because if we only talk about business, the conversation feels like a sales pitch.  It becomes the road to a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Shouldn’t networking be about connecting with people?

I read a study from the Saratoga Foundation a bit ago that said, compared to five years ago, we have 2/3 less people to connect with in times of need. That means, 5 years ago, if you had 10 people to call if you had a flat tire, needed help picking up the kids, flooded basement, lost electricity; that today, you’d have 4 people to call. That touched me deeply.  When we network, you could be the positive interaction for that person’s day.  Your conversation could add humor and influence on someone’s life. That’s why I like to ask where people live and what they like about the networking events.  I try to learn personal things about them because people will eventually do business with people they trust.  When we connect with people on an emotional level, we are remembered.

Consider on how you communicate with your friends and family. The very things you talk about with them are the instances you speak about because there was an EMOTION tied to it.  You were happy or sad or frustrated or irritated.  The emotional element is what made that experience stand out.  We don’t talk about the random drive through experience at Starbucks or Panera unless something emotional happened when we did it.  It’s the same for us when networking.

That 30 second elevator pitch doesn’t do you justice, so stop worrying about it.  Yes, being able to succinctly communicate what you do is good, but why do we define ourselves so much by our careers?  What if coming together to network wasn’t solely about the sale? What if we considered how to help that business grow?  Can I refer you to anyone in my tribe? (had to use it one last time – a blog on “the tribe” coming soon). That’s when the network expands.

If it’s not your cup of tea, I understand.  If staying on the professional side of conversation topics is more appealing, consider asking if they like their line of work or how they got into the field.  Because, within our human nature, we are selfish, and we love, love, love to talk about ourselves.  You might even hear some pretty cool stories on how they emerged into the field or arrived at their current occupation.

So, the next time you head to a networking event and you feel anxiety or nervous knots building in your belly, remember to focus outward and on the other person.  Focus on the personal questions.  Asking, “What do you do?” and “Who do you work for?” are such simple and obvious queries. Why don’t we start with more interesting ones like,

“Whadija have for lunch?”

“How’s your week going?”

“Did you see the game last night?”

“What’s your favorite dish at Thanksgiving?”

“If you were a superhero, what power would you have?”

“If there were a zombie apocalypse, would you be a zombie or a survivor?”

Have fun and begin the conversation.  Then, and this is an art, keep the conversation going.

Add comments and add your favorite topics for conversation starters when networking.  Visit  https://slonesolutionsllc.com/ for more blog posts.

Thanks for sharing and remember to make a difference in someone’s day.

 

 

 

The Spotlight Effect

While traveling and going through airport security, I watched a mom and daughter interaction. Visibly setting the stage:  a frantic mom was clearly frazzled by her three-year old’s attachment to her baby blanket while attempting to go through TSA pre-check.

Traveling by plane can be cumbersome. Once viewed a grand experience. Now a dreaded, line-filled, ever-waiting, unpleasant means to get from point A to point B with both rude and helpful staff, often grouchy passengers, lost bags, bags that won’t stuff into overheard bins, terrible smells in airports, planes, delayed flights.  The list can go on and on.

When one travels frequently enough, the TSA pre-check line becomes a blessing.  It expedites one through security without removing shoes, taking computer bags out of cases, or placing travel liquids and toiletries on display.  The need for security bins is removed because your bags and briefcases are scanned as a whole.  The flow of the line can be smooth. It operates like clockwork.

On occasion you’ll see the traveler who has TSA pre-check who’s unfamiliar with the process.  The shoes beep or a belt causes a traveler to go in and out of the scanner.  And in these moments, there are fleeting thoughts and judgements from other travelers thinking, “Hurry up already.  You’ve stopped the flow of the line.”

I’m not completely certain what the hurry actually is, as most people go through security to then saunter off for beverages and snacks, bathroom breaks or on a very, very rare occasion; break into a full-on running sprint for a departing flight.  Yet the majority of the time, TSA pre-check becomes an underappreciated privilege and convenience for expediting one through airport security.

On this particular travel day, I see a mom traveling casually with her three-year-old daughter.  That vision in itself could trigger stress for any parent. The TSA line was moving smoothly.  Travelers zipping satchels and briefcases and, placing phones in computer bags to quickly go through the x-ray machine.  The mom placed their carryon luggage on the belt and turned to find her child clinging, clinging to her baby blanket.  When the mother advised that the blanket had to be screened, the child clung to it for dear life, holding it close to her chest as she pleaded, shaking her head adamantly, “No mommy, no!”

This interaction continued for moments, but to the mom must have felt like days. The TSA line stopped. The mother was visibly flushed, and she cast frantic eye movements back and forth to catch any judging looks from passengers stalled in the line.  The child protested again, and the mother bent down to her daughter’s eye level and said, “You are making us late and people are staring.”  She actually spoke her stressed thoughts.   She continued, “and we cannot go on the plane unless they screen your blanket.

I marveled at this moment. I was emotionally captivated and felt empathy for this mom and charming little girl.  Baffled that the TSA agents wouldn’t let this child walk through the x-ray machine with the blanket in tow.  I mean come on, who can’t relate to a favorite blanket or stuffed animal from childhood?  Clearly the child and the mother were not a domestic threat.  The mom was so flushed and frantic.   I wondered why the mom didn’t create a story for the child like:   “Your blanket has a special mission and it needs to go through the machine to make certain our plane is on time.

And, I so badly wanted to interject and tell the mom, “Hey, no one is judging you. Take your time. And mom, traveling solo with your three-year-old, you’re doing a great job.”  (Those comments shared after we passed through security ;o)

Yet in this moment, I realized that when we are emotionally stressed, and laser focused on the experience at hand, our clear thinking can become muted, clouded; a downward spiral of negative thoughts.  We can think and imagine the worst. Even speak our fears out loud for others to hear, “people are staring.”  Isn’t that crazy?  That in moments of stress & worry we can easily conjure the very worst thing that can happen in a moment? We can envision catastrophes, build emotions, conflict and dialogue with people we don’t know, project self-judgment that doesn’t exist, create obstacles to solutions, and impart additional stress and worry to situations all in our head.

There are lots of reasons for this. There are endless psychological studies that showcase how our brains are wired for fight or flight.  There are studies on how when we have a thought or a doubt that our mind can trick us into the safe choice for survival.  For the brevity of blog’s sake, we won’t go into detail, but there’s also an even more intriguing element called the Spotlight Effect which is the feeling of being noticed more than you really are.  In our moments of stress and worry, we project what we think others are thinking and experiencing on ourselves in these moments too.

So, on some levels, it’s cool that our brains are looking out for us, but why does it need to find only the negative pieces? Ok, the survival thing, I get it.  But it’s when we step back and take a breath, that we can find clarity, the ability to laugh at ourselves, see the humor in the situation, the courage to speak up, to provide the compliment, or just embrace the moment.

If the mom had taken a moment, taken a deep breath and looked around, I think she would have seen a multitude of empathetic eyes and appreciation for a child’s attachment to a blanket.  Our self judgements can hold us back or propel us forward.  Recognize those self-inflicting judgements and look around.  Give eye contact and smile. You’re likely to find a line of TSA travelers smiling with encouragement.

 

Your Personal Brand

Our names are our identity. How we spell it, how It’s pronounced, how it appears on papers, our signatures. It’s who we are. We attach ourselves to it.  Feel important when others remember it.  Yet, it’s also the first thing we forget within moments of meeting someone new.

Recently while walking my daughter to school, I introduced a neighbor to another mom who joined our cavalcade and asked, “Do you know each other?” and then confidently said, “Cathy, this is Dawn, Dawn this is Cathy.”

Dawn spoke up instantly and advised, “I’m Katie”.

Instant mortification set in, especially for my very confident knowledge of her name during the introduction moments ago.

After arriving to school and sending our wee ones off for the day, I apologized to Dawn – now Katie, and said, “I always thought it was Dawn. I don’t’ know where I got that from.”  Her response, “It’s ok.  The only reason I know your name is because your husband says, “Holly this” and “Holly that” when he’s walking your daughter to school.”

We did however marvel that it’s common to live on a street and know a dog’s name and not the owners.

Yet, the irony of the situation is that we all do this.   Whether a neighbor or a business colleague, we put all this pressure on ourselves because we feel as if we cannot admit it if we don’t know the individual’s name.  We’ve all performed the introduction, “hey, this my friend (insert name)” and leaving it hang in the air for the other person to introduce themselves.

My husband told me that his cousin’s roommate was dating a guy named Craig and he called him Greg for years. YEARS!!! They told him five years after the fact.  His reaction?  “You waited five years to tell me your name??!!?”

We put this pressure on ourselves.  Why is it awkward to admit, “I’m sorry, I don’t recall your name?”  Or simply, “My apologies. Faces are my strength and I’m working on the name thing. I know you. I know your face, yet I’ve forgotten your name. I’m focused, and I will remember this time.”

Yes, I too am guilty.  I’ll often focus on the dog.  That cute, cuddly, little, scruffy guy with the wiggly tail.  I have to tell myself, “Give eye contact to the human. Introduce yourself.”

We are so distracted when we first meet people. If we took a moment to focus outward, name recollection wouldn’t be an issue.  I’m frequently asking people, “is that Cathy with a C or a K?  Is that Ted with a T?”

Because to that person, their name is their identity.  You remembering their name makes them like you, your personal brand, even more.