Networking, Self-Worth & Validation
I've had the pleasure of developing and delivering various networking trainings across the decade. The audiences have ranged executive-level interns, non-profit staff, political and professional organizations.
Of the more recent trainings I've led (3 in the last 2 years), I've noticed a unique shift from others in the past. There seems to be a greater need for external validation by the networker of the group they are networking with.
Common questions in the training include:
1. What's the best way to approach?
2. How do I come off as someone they really want to know?
3. What if they are not interested in what I do?
4. How do I talk about myself without coming off as I'm bragging?
Fear is a constant in everything we do and we really want to make sure that we're going to maximize our networking opportunities. Totally get that. What bothers me most about the above questions is that there seems to be a clear lack of self-worth and a need to get external validation in order to make the networking "successful."
Engagement in networking session is two things: transactional and emotional. Now, I'm not saying you have to cry with the everyone at a networking event (although to get that vulnerable with another that quickly would be a pretty cool feat), but you have to develop some level of emotional connection in order to start building trust in developing a long-lasting connection. It appears the focus tends to be on the transactional part of the relationship, i.e. common professional interests, how you can help me, how I can help you, quid pro quo, etc.
What I tell those in my training is that transactional will always take care of itself. When there is a mutual benefit professionally or in business, those things will develop and you can follow through on that whenever you want. The emotional connection of networking is where you should always focus on as it is the hardest and its all based on your ability to be vulnerable (which is a lot harder than it looks).
And there's the rub- to be vulnerable, to share one's self, is directly correlated with your personal self-esteem. I draw from Nathaniel Brandon's definition of self-esteem where self-esteem requires (1) self-efficacy - the belief that one has the ability to be able to make “it” happen in the world around them - and (2) self-respect - the belief that they actually deserve the “it” they desire.
So, that's great, but WTF does this mean?
Lets frame these concepts as beliefs in the context of networking:
1. I walk into a room and I believe in my uniqueness and desire to contribute in the world and seek to find others in the room that will be allies in my professional and/or personal journey. (Self-respect)
2. I have the social skills to develop relationships in the room. (Self-efficacy)
3. I believe I will maximize my opportunities at this networking event. (Self-esteem)
A bad example by comparison:
1. I hope I find someone in the room that I connect with so that they can help me in my career (poor self-efficacy).
2. I hope I'm not too awkward. (poor self-respect)
3. I hope that I’m able to hide my flaws effectively so that people will like me and I can help build my career. (weak self-esteem).
So, which one of the examples above would YOU rather be network with?
See the second set of beliefs and throw them out the window. Those questions relate to an individual seeking to manipulate a desired outcome. They, the people in the room, are not your focus. It's you, being you, having confidence in you, and the desire for something great that should be motivating you.
Are you open to the possibilities of meeting others that can help you on your transactional path?
What do you most emotionally connect with in your transactional desires?
What are the traits of the person you would like to meet to help you in your transactional needs?
How did you find the people that have helped you on your path today?
Illuminating awareness. Facilitating choice.
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