I’m an introvert (INFP), complicated by the fact that I have social anxiety. Still, knowing my situation is a bit complicated doesn’t stop me from feeling that everyone’s crazy when they all seem to legitimately enjoy the networking hour. Just a bunch of people delighted to be in the presence of other people asking them about all kinds of irrelevant things just to get to the beneficial tidbit.
I like conversation for the sake of having a rewarding deep exchange of worldview and insight with another person. I’m not thinking about what they do for a living. Not thinking about how they can help me. I’m sometimes not even thinking about how I can help them. I just wanna see how I vibe with them. I wanna know how they think. But that’s not really the nature of networking. I fail every time.
(Recently, a new hire at my place of employment talked about feeling reenergized being around all the people at our two days of conferencing, and I was like SOUND THE ALARM! EXTROVERT ALERT!)
I have to get past a couple blunders before I become comfortable with a conversation. I’m bound to say something that I think was dumb and I spend the following 10 minutes of the conversation trying to talk myself off the ledge. But once we get past that. I can be amazing. IF we ever get past that. Often, I don’t.
If you’re anything like me, I have a few tips for how I get through suffocating networking moments:
I’m good for some bathroom breaks. And I try to plan them accordingly. You can take a break as soon as you get to where you’re going as a kind of regroup and psyching yourself up session. Make sure everything is in place so you’re not worried about what you’re looking like when you’re speaking to someone important.
If there is food involved, take another bathroom break after everyone has finished eating. Take your deep breaths, readjust. Make sure there isn’t anything on your face. Most importantly, breathe. Get away from everyone. If possible, don’t go to the bathroom everyone is using. Find a single bathroom without stalls, or go up to some other floor so it’s less likely that someone else will be around to interrupt your much-needed solitude.
Pretend to take a call, or actually go make a call. I’ve stepped out of spaces to call my mother just so I could have a moment away from people I didn’t really know. One, my mother will always, ALWAYS pick up.Two, I can call my mother 45 times a day and it still wouldn’t be too much. Three, I can recap how the day has been going with my mom which also helps me sort through how I feel about the event. Lastly, chances are she’ll also have a story that will make me forget about all the networking vultures in the room I’ve just left.
Sip A Lil’ Sum
I’ve realized that wine is a really good way for me to be comfortable in professional social situations. As much as I love margs, there’s nothing like a good ole glass of something white to get me smiling and contributing to conversations. It calms me down, mellows me out, and I’m not so worried about calculating everything that comes out of my mouth. Yet, I can also trust that nothing crazy with leave my mouth either. If everyone else is drinking something, take advantage. It loosens me up just enough to be cute and charming and I’m here for that.
Charge Your Device
Nothing says “temporarily unavailable” like checking your phone during a networking event. I know it’s supposed to be taboo or whatever, but nobody knows if you’re checking your work email or not. You could be doing something super important for all they know. If you’re feeling really awkward, have used up all your bathroom breaks, and the liquor hasn’t hit yet, scroll through something really quickly. Preferably not Instagram you don’t know what to expect in your feed these days lol. Somehow, scrolling on your phone doesn’t completely keep people away and it’s possible someone will run up on you anyway. Do you boo.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
This may seem like a no-brainer, but we’ve all pushed the envelope at one point or another with outfits. Don’t wear anything that will make you feel more self-conscious than you already make yourself feel on a regular day. If those pants are a bit too snug, chances are, you’ll be tugging at them all night. Eliminate all possible variables to you stressing yourself out that much more.
Networking is important, Yes. BUT
Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t have to mean making yourself exhausted with anxiety. The key is not to push yourself beyond what you can handle. My social anxiety is not less important than the possible connections I might make that night. If I only have two meaningful conversations the whole night, issa win. I’m not in the business of racing to see how many people I can talk to by the end of the event. I’m perfectly okay with moving at my own pace.