3 Basic Skills that Will Make You a Networking Master
We are constantly thrown into new situations — new jobs, new conferences, new mixers, new organizations, and new client meetings. Such scenarios are required for success. Yet, so many professionals do less than their best at managing new situations. Too often, people tend to feel awkward or timid in a room full of new people; they haven’t mastered their “getting-to-know-you” skills yet.
Keith Rollag, an associate professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Babson College, suggests that there are 3 fundamentally basic skills people need to learn in order to excel at networking. They are so simple, however they are also the sources of anxiety for even seasoned professionals.
In an interesting social experiment by Columbia professors Paul Ingram and Michael Morris, the researchers polled a group of businesspeople attending a networking event. Attendees were asked what they hoped to achieve from the event, and whom on the attendee list they already knew. To start, 95% said their goal was to meet new people. Researchers say, however, that despite their intentions, the executives spent the majority of their time with people they already knew AND met new people only if they had an acquaintance in common.
People are sometimes fearful to approach others: They worry about interrupting a conversation, fear they will become tongue-tied during an introduction, or dread the idea of rejection. Push through those feelings. Missed introductions become missed opportunities.
2. Remember Names
It’s common for people to forget names within seconds of hearing them. Neuroscience studies tell us this is because we process and store names differently from other things we learn about people — such as their faces, roles, and life histories.
Rollag, however, says the problem isn’t forgetting a name, but rather, “…what we do when we suddenly come up blank.” When this happens people might avoid the other person, or awkwardly try to reintroduce themselves.
Every time you meet someone new, remind yourself to pay attention to his or her name. Repeat the name by testing your recall during the conversation. Saying a name out loud right after you hear it will also help lodge it in your short-term memory.
3. Ask Questions
According to a study by Elizabeth Morrison at New York University, the more questions people in new positions ask, they better they perform in new situations.
Why do so many people loathe asking questions? Blame it on the ego. Most of the time people find it hard to admit they don’t know something. They don’t want to appear “dumb” reaching out to someone who may easily solve the problem.
If you are conflicted about asking questions in new situations, Rollag suggests getting right to the point. Ask short, direct questions that are easy to understand and answer. Another re-assuring trick: Ask people during introductions if you can contact them later for advice.
Mastering these get-to-know you activities takes patience, commitment, mindful reflection, and practice. And remember: You will be more confident in new networking situations with each introduction you make, every name you remember, and with more questions you ask.