We all know that networking can be a challenge. It requires well-developed interpersonal skills combined with the courage to be completely in the moment with whatever unfolds. It’s more art than science.
With a topic this rich and nuanced, sometimes it’s easier to focus on what not to do.
Here are 12 practices to become more aware of not doing:
- Waiting on the Sidelines: This is a no-brainer no-no, but it’s really easy to do. Our self-protection impulses can quickly take over and keep us stuck in our comfort zone, watching networking from a safe distance. If you notice that you’re doing this, take courage and consciously push yourself into the mix of other people in order to make connections and initiate conversations. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the easier it will get.
- Not Being Present: This occurs when you let your inner monologue wander into the future or the past. You may start thinking about what happened earlier today, or about something you have to do later. Often times, your attention goes to a source of anxiety or stress, like a meeting that didn’t go well or a task you have to complete. The problem is – you haven’t been listening to the person in front of you. And when you’re not listening, you won’t be able to produce an authentic and connected question or comment in response to what they’ve been saying.
- Listening to Self-Doubt: Have you ever been trying to listen to someone when you begin to worry that they’re judging you, or that you might not know the best thing to say next, or that you have a piece of spinach in your teeth? These voices are based on fear and doubt. If you let them take over, then they’ll greatly impact your listening, which then hinders your ability to respond. Recognize when these thoughts come up, and bring your attention back to the moment and to the person with whom you’re speaking.
- Not Asking Questions: If you’re not asking questions, then the conversation is more likely to be cut short. Get really interested in the another person, and ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity. People are fascinating, and this is your chance to learn about their world.
- Asking Close-Ended Questions: When asking questions, don’t go the knee-jerk route of using yes/no questions. These questions tend to be leading in nature, and they don’t give the person with whom you’re networking the opportunity to answer with more details and information. Open questions are those that start with “What,” “When,” “Where,” “How,” and “Why.”
- Answering with Yes and No: If you want to help advance and deepen a conversation, don’t respond to questions with only yes/no answers. Even if you’re asked a close-ended question, proactively add more detail and explanation to your response. This gives the other person more to react to, and provides them with more to ask you about.
- Doing More Talking Than Listening: There’s a balance to be struck between listening and talking. If you take up too much air in the conversation, then it doesn’t leave space for others. People will quickly become disengaged if there’s not a mutuality of interest and contribution.
- No Eye Contact: Looking away or down is one of the primary ways of creating disconnection. Although everyone looks away somewhat while talking or listening, the more you can maintain a confident and comfortable amount of eye contact the stronger the connection will be. Also, square-up your feet and shoulders to face someone – this body language adjustment can make a big difference in creating connections with others.
- Over Drinking: Having a couple of drinks might be just the thing that helps you loosen-up or be more present. But, there’s a fine line to walk here. If you have too much alcohol, it can be a huge detriment to your networking ability and your broader personal brand. No one wants to network with someone who is slurring speech, making crass jokes, or using harsh language. Cultivate the awareness needed to monitor your limits.
- Interrupting or Talking Over Others: If you’re high energy or nervous, you might find yourself jumping-in to speak up while someone else is talking. Or, you may have something really relevant or funny to say, and you don’t feel like it can wait. However, speaking on top of others is a big turn-off. It shows that you’re not truly listening and are more interested in your own voice than theirs. The occasional interruption can be ok, but moderation is key here. If you realize that you are often interrupting or talking over others, it’s definitely something to improve upon.
- Downplaying Your Awesomeness: Humility is a good thing, but too many of us land on the extreme side of self-deprecation because we’re either scared of bragging or are uncomfortable talking about ourselves. If someone brings up one of your accomplishments, or an interesting element of your work, take the opportunity to own it and elaborate. Brushing it off is a missed opportunity to stand out.
- Playing a Role: Although everyone may feel somewhat uncomfortable during networking, you still want to focus on letting your authentic self shine through. If you find that you’re playing a role, or taking on a certain character in order to gain approval or fit into someone else’s expectations, then you’ll want to look at how to adjust your approach. People can easily sense inauthenticity and “acting,” and it’s off-putting. On the other hand, people are drawn to authenticity and confidence. Developing a more confident and genuine networking presence may take some deeper and longer-term introspective work, but it’s so very important.