Most often when people hear the word “networking” they think of a means for ultimately getting a job or getting clients. In the current legal industry, networking is an essential part of marketing your legal services, gaining connections for future job opportunities, and strengthening your brand. It is rare these days to hear of someone who got a job by simply sending in a resume cold, without having any connection to anyone involved in the process. Unfortunately for many, networking is also one of those activities that elicits much anxiety and increases a sense of vulnerability. One reason why networking is uncomfortable for so many is the fact that often times the power to achieve the goal of networking is in someone else’s control. For example, if my goal is to get a job, then by definition I am relying on someone else to provide that job opportunity. And before you say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious for that insight” allow me to suggest an alternative.
When we want something desperately (like a job) and we are relying on someone else to provide what we want, our anxiety rises. The risk of disappointment is high and the sense of vulnerability is palpable. When you feel this way it impacts your performance. At a networking event you might feel pressured, nervous, or self-conscious. Very few of us perform well under these circumstances. So what if you could change your goal so that you would feel less pressured, vulnerable, or insecure?
The secret to lowering your anxiety in networking situations can be summed up in this simple phrase: Give to others what you seek for yourself. Start small and expand from there. When you arrive at a networking event, you might feel like you need a friendly face, someone who welcomes you, someone who starts a conversation with you or invites you into an ongoing conversation. You might need a new acquaintance to introduce you to someone else who might be able to help direct you to your ultimate goal (a job). These are all examples of things that you can provide for others. You can be the friendly face, the one who welcomes others (even if you are new), the one who invites others into a conversation (even if you think everyone else knows each other), and the one who tries to introduce a new acquaintance to someone else (that you literally met five minutes ago) who can help them in a more substantial way.
The insecurity felt while networking is often due to the idea that someone else has what you need and you feel powerless in some way. Changing your focus to give to others what you seek for yourself can shift that dynamic. Now you are exercising your power in areas where you have control, as opposed to waiting for someone else to exercise their power to help you. This reduces anxiety, reduces the risk of failure (because you are now in control of whether you succeed at your goal), and ultimately allows you to make stronger connections with others which will eventually lead to your needs being met.
It’s the long-view of networking, which requires more time and energy, but it is a much more effective way to network than to try to go in quickly and land a job before the event is over. Happy Networking!
Shawn Healy, PhD