It’s not about you: 4 common misconceptions about networking

I’m with a client (let’s call her Lizzie), an experienced project manager who has recently been laid off, alongside 30 of her colleagues in a cost cutting campaign. The last time she had to look for work was 17 years ago. It all seemed so simple then. Now we are working through how she could extend her sphere of influence.

Here’s how the conversation goes:

“I’m sensing a reluctance to attend these networking events Lizzie.”

“You’re right! I can’t do it. I clam up and feel sick even before I have entered the room. I’m trying to impress and it never works. They will see through me and find out that I’m really only Mrs Average. After a few exchanges  they tend to drift away or make an excuse like there is someone on the other side of the room they need to catch and that they’ll be back. But they don’t come back. My husband says that whenever I meet someone new I turn into someone he doesn’t recognise, a real ‘bore’. So it’s just not for me – I’m obviously too much of an introvert.”

So how do you help someone like Lizzie move out of their comfort zone and get comfortable in these kinds of one on one conversations that will make a big difference to her finding work?

Focus on the other person

The first thing to notice is Lizzie’s comment ‘I’m trying to impress’. She’s swallowed the myth (not hard – I’ve been known to do it myself) that networking is all about broadcasting your strengths. Of course it’s good to be clear about how you add value, but complete strangers are rarely ready to listen and pay attention to a list of your achievements. In fact it can be downright off-putting. In conversations like these we as the listener can feel ‘sold’ to.

So why is this? As my friend and best-selling author Bob Burg has said, ‘All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.’ It is difficult to like someone who seems not to be the slightest bit interested in us. When we feel someone is making the effort to find out about us, and what is important to us, then we become much more receptive to what they are saying. When we ask questions and show a genuine interest in the other person, that’s when we make connections that matter.

Be your authentic self

Lizzie’s fear is also at play here. Afraid of being shown up, she tries to be someone she is not. In an effort to survive the ordeal, her primitive brain takes over, her thinking is compromised and she loses her sense of self. She is no longer able to demonstrate her thoughtful and considered nature. She presents inauthentically and therefore reduces the chance of building trust. If we don’t trust someone, we are less likely to be influenced by them.


It’s very easy to believe that in order to be influential, you need to be seen as having all the answers. Lizzie is worried about being ‘found out’. In reality very few people expect perfection. You will gain more respect by listening and exploring alternate viewpoints than by being ready with a definitive solution. Abandoning the need to be right will take a huge amount of pressure off and leave you freer to listen, relax and show your true colours. You will be more able to spot how you can help and make a difference to others. Shifting the emphasis from you to them will leave a much more positive impression than being able to fire off facts at random.

Understand your value

Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the big question of self-belief. Lizzie and I are working on this and making progress. Most of us are highly self-critical and will readily identify our faults, even if it is only to ourselves. The reality is that each of us, irrespective of background, education and life experience, has something unique and valuable to offer the world. Once we know what this is, and can own it and articulate it, then our authenticity will emerge. As Marianne Williamson says ‘Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.’

Over to you

  • How do you feel about networking?
  • How much of the real you shows up in these situations?
  • What could you do to take the pressure off?
  • How would it be if you shifted the focus from showcasing your achievements to finding out about theirs?
  • To what extent do you understand and own the value you bring?


Click here to find out more about Clare’s work with leaders and their teams.

© Move Ahead Global 2016

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