3 Strategies for Becoming a Confident Curious Connector (aka Networker)

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Synopsis

From my clients and my own experiences, I have gathered these tips to share with you to shed your shell and become a proficient connector (aka networker).

I wasn’t always great at networking. I remember the days when I struggled to find my words, when I second guessed if I was adding value to a conversation, and times when I battled with finding the courage to introduce myself. I have been there and done that, but I also remember the day that I made the decision to renounce my status as wall flower. Now, as a coach, I help guide my clients through their own journey of finding comfort and confidence in networking; with this article, I hope to share some tactics that can help you do the same.  

I was recently with a client at a networking event, reassuring her that she could discover joy in connecting with others.  She looked back at me, did a full body shake and said “okay, I’m out of my head and in a state of curiosity.” Often, I find what my clients need most when their insecurities try to hi-jack their attention, is a bit of encouragement to get focused on the other person. Curiosity is a character strength, a morally and universally valued human capacity, and like any other asset, it can be nurtured and cultivated. It is one of the essential capacities I teach my clients seeking to enhance their networking abilities.

However, before exploring curiosity, we must master self-awareness and learn what is going on for us in these challenging social moments. At times, our hearts can be filled with discouragement and our heads filled with a nay-saying critic. If you have been there, I want you to know that you are not alone – I’ve been there too. From my clients and my own experiences, I have gathered these tips to share with you to shed your shell and become a proficient connector (aka networker).

The first tip has nothing to do with mastering networking, and everything to do with mastering yourself.

1. Stop the Mental Chatter

THOUGHT -> EMOTION -> BEHAVIOURS

Think for a moment and reflect on the specific emotions you experience amidst your networking struggles. What feelings and sensations surface for you? If you responded with: insecurity, self-doubt, feelings of not belonging, sweaty palms or a racing heart; congratulations you are a normal human being! Rest assured you are not alone.

Now that you have identified the emotions, try and pin-point the associated thoughts that are hi-jacking your brain. Commonly, our thoughts get in the way and prevent us from generating positive emotions that propel us toward openly approaching others. Explore these thoughts in greater depth. Learn to understand them. Where do they come from? How do they feel in your body? How do these thoughts contribute to missed opportunities? Ask yourself, what thoughts could lead me to feeling confident, energized, and curious? Interestingly enough, research shows that we can trick our own cognition and forge the emotions we desire. Yes – ‘fake it until you make it’ has scientific backing. It is possible to foster: THOUGHTS -> EMOTION -> ACTION.

In effect, you can either 1. get skilled at getting out of your head and ignoring negative self-talk or 2. teach yourself to focus on thoughts that will best support you. I help my clients learn to do both. Here are two exercises you can try to ‘fake it until you make it’ before engaging with a live networking environment.

  • For each negative self-thought, come up with three reasons (using examples from your past), to debunk it. If you are struggling on your own, ask a friend for help – they are usually quick to point out our strengths.
  • Reflect on times when you felt courageous, confident, curious, and included – deeply connect with this.

In setting you up for success, I want to be clear that this first step can take a long time. It is not easy to reprogram our habitual thinking patterns, but the ends are most worth the means. 

2. Get Curious

Nowadays, I am like a kid in a candy-store when I’m in a room full of people I’ve yet to meet. I know what you’re thinking “she must be an extrovert.” This is true, but I don’t attribute my excitement to connect with others to extroversion. It is my curiosity. In tip 2, I want to share with you how applying my strength of curiosity has helped me to become a great connector, and I’ll offer a few ideas of how to foster your own curiosity.

I have acquired a genuine curiosity to learn about people - what excites them, what they are proud of, what motivates them, why they do what they do, what brings them a sense of meaning, what brings them joy, etc. To this day, I absolutely dread the idea of approaching social events as self-serving networking opportunities, but love the challenge of finding the unique viewpoints and aspirations of others. One time, while at a speed dating function, I even discovered a man’s blood type. I can’t remember how we got on the topic of hematology, but I can recall how different my friend’s reflections were that evening. She and her boyfriend-prospects chatted about the weather and current events, while I asked questions like “what is on the top shelf of your bedroom closet?” to move us beyond pleasantries. By the way, I highly recommend this question if you are in the dating world and want to kick-start an enjoyable and meaningful interaction!

Many share social experiences like my friend’s – people tend to start conversations with general questions and get stuck in a meaningless exchange. This brings me to my all-time favourite quote: “we live in a world of the questions we create.” It has taught me this important lesson: the very first question you ask sets the direction of the conversation. So, if you want to spend 20 minutes talking about the weather, go ahead and ask their thoughts on it, or perhaps try out some of my favourite question templates below in learning to cultivate deeper curiosity.

Questions to Break the Ice:

  • I hope you don’t mind, but I overheard you talking about (insert topic from your eaves dropping).
    • I would love to hear more about (this).
    • I’m curious how you got involved with (this).
    • I’d love to learn more about how I can get involved with (this).

Questions to Discover More:

  • You get energized talking about (this). What is it that excites you most about (this)?
  • You sound proud of the work you are doing in relation to (this). I’d love to learn more about your journey to get to this point.
  • It sounds like you are very passionate about (this). How do you thrive despite the challenges you have experienced from people who think differently about (this)?

I have a treasure box full of questions to break the ice and initiate meaningful conversation. I would recommend sitting down before an event to generate your own meaningful questions that peak your curiosity – using them will help get you genuinely engaged and those you speak with will feel the difference.

Like any talent or strength, it is possible to build your muscle of curiosity through practice. One of the reasons I love my job as a coach is because I get to practice curiosity in each client interaction. I challenge you in the next conversation you stumble into, to ask three times as many questions as the other person. Get curious!

3. Prime Yourself

Thus far, we have explored how to self-evoke thoughts and emotions that effectively support us in our networking adventures, and we discovered the power of curiosity in creating meaningful conversations. Now let’s bring my suggested strategies to a close by focusing on how to ready ourselves before, sustain ourselves during, and congratulate ourselves after the event to ensure an optimal connecting (networking) experience. Let’s look at how to prime ourselves, so we don’t get stuck in first gear, and how we can celebrate making it to the finish line.

If you find networking to be a challenge, like I once did, make sure to take the time to prime yourself! This looks different from one person to the next, and it may take some trial and error to find your special sauce of preparation. The following are a few groundwork steps that have been useful to my clients: 

  • Setting intentions is a great way to prime your mind and body to best support you in what is yet to come. Here are some recommended intentions to repeat in your mind while getting ready or to write down and keep in your pocket for quick access:
    • Be CURIOUS
    • Learn something new about everyone you meet
    • Find ways you can help others or enable them with information, connections from within your network, or other resources
  • Prepare yourself in advance. Meeting multiple people in a row can be exhausting, so do whatever you need to do in terms of self-care before, during and after to effectively manage your energy. This may look like:
    • Before
      • Get a good night of sleep before the event
      • Give yourself the gift of alone time
      • Eat well, exercise, and meditate
      • Invite a buddy. Sometimes it can be easier to approach a group of people and manage your energy when there are two of you. Make sure they are on board with the intentions suggested above.
      • Congratulate yourself on your diligent preparation to get your self-talk in check
      • Set your intentions (see above)
    • During
      • Take a breather when you need one (outside, in a bathroom stall, or the corner of the room)
      • Focus on your breath – occasionally pay close attention to your rate of breathing and stop for three deep breaths
    • After
      • Celebrate each time you pushed yourself past discomfort and vulnerability to introduce yourself or join a conversation
      • Do a post event reflection and think of five things you did well, and one thing you would like to improve upon the next time

No doubt about it, this is tough stuff. Attending a networking function can be painful and filled with anxiety. It takes courage, vulnerability and a willingness to take the risk, but it can also be a great way to meet a friend, help a stranger, or learn about a new opportunity. The tips and strategies I shared here can be useful, but you must find ways to internalize them and turn them into your own way of being a confident and curious connector.

Post Script: If you feel like you need more strategies or motivation when it comes to networking environments, reach out to connect. As a coach, I am here to support you in executing the strategies we co-create to overcome your discomfort with networking. My goal is to help you build your networking capacity to walk away feeling positive about those who you’ve helped and excited about the new connections you’ve made. 

Tags: business, connecting, curiosity, networking, psychology

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