There is no easy way to say this, I suck at networking.
I have found myself on numerous occasions looking awkward, simply because starting a conversation, or keeping one going is extremely difficult for me. It takes me a while to know new people, and if you throw in the factor of being a military spouse and moving every two to three years, it can make situations a little more difficult.
There is a theory that a small change can result in larger, more prevalent changes – this is called the butterfly effect. I have found that this is also applicable to networking. If you are struggling with getting to know people, just make one small change at a time, and watch your networking life flourish.
I educated myself on the importance of networking, and I have slowly…very slowly improved, but it has taken much research and much practice. I want to share some advice on how to find new ways to approach networking, and how to develop common grounds with others in order to build a lasting connection.
1. Attending social events are beneficial, no matter how painful.
The military community provides networking events for military and their families, whether in the form of hiring events, command functions, or local activities. This is a great opportunity to develop new relationships. You can meet individuals who can offer invaluable information on your current or next duty station, or you can meet potential employers.
No matter who you meet, take the time to get to know these people. In the past, if I attended a social event, I would find the nearest corner and stay there until someone approached me. Nowadays, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel, I try to connect with others, and sometimes I fail, epically, but at least I tried. I also lived, so I can try again.
2. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability.
Effective networking is based on a genuine connection. Anyone can start a conversation, but it takes sincerity to develop a mutual connection with someone. Don’t be afraid to show your true personality and express your feelings, no matter how many flaws you think you have. Being yourself, can create a connection that a forged persona could never outshine.
3. Treat every relationship differently and always with respect.
People are diverse, and thus, the needs and benefits they offer are distinctive. I once attempted to make everyone my closest friend. That was not logical, and it was extremely draining. I finally discovered, that every person I meet does not merit the same type of relationship, but they all deserve respect. You have different types of friends for different reasons. Realizing the difference in the types of relationships you have, allows you to invest the appropriate amount of time into each connection that you create.
4. Add value to others and yourself.
Networking isn’t just about getting benefits for you – it’s also about giving to others, via a real connection. Build others up. Ask questions and truly get to know others. Learn about the reason behind their career choices, family, religion, food preferences, and likes and dislikes. Compliment their decisions, sincerely.
This all aids in you making the other person feel valuable. Once you have done this, then make yourself valuable. Offer something that can be beneficial to the other person, some type a resource.
Volunteer at an event they are hosting, purchase an item they are selling, offer to watch their kids (or not). The point is, if you can do something to support them, and if you are able to do it, then do it. Doing things for others will allow others to feel valuable around you and it will allow them to see how valuable you are to them.
To sum this up, whether you are looking for employment, a resource, or a friend, networking can present you with the opportunity to make the right connection.
The most important thing to remember is, we also need to develop a true connection with individuals; it may not ease the immediate pain of networking, but it can create a change for later that may make other events in your life easier.
With a little time and effort, you will see the results from putting yourself out there and getting to know people. Even if you are not a social butterfly, you can still create a butterfly effect.