In today’s diverse and interconnected workplace, the value of networking cannot be overstated. Building professional relationships is a key component of personal and career growth, providing a platform for learning, opportunities and collaboration. However, the journey through the realm of networking is not always smooth, and many individuals face challenges and concerns along the way.

According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, a staggering 85% of job positions are filled through networking. This statistic alone emphasises the pivotal role networking plays in career advancement. Additionally, a study by Harvard Business Review found that 70-80% of jobs are never posted publicly, highlighting the significance of informal channels like networking in discovering hidden opportunities. The numbers don’t lie, like it or loathe it, networking is a large part of professional life in the 21st century, and becoming more and more relevant as time passes.

Entering a room filled with unfamiliar faces can be intimidating. I vividly recall my first networking experience as a young hopeful in a room filled with opportunity—the palpable anxiety, the inner-voice screaming, “get me out of here” before it had even begun. However, it appears I was not alone, as statistics reveal that a whopping 70% of professionals feel anxious about networking.

“Just imagine everyone naked” was the advice I was once given by a teacher when I was nervously waiting side of stage, in our 1990 school rendition of Snow White. For those wondering, I was playing the famous key role, of a tree in the woods. My role was to convincingly sway and make delicate swooshing sounds to mimic a breeze blowing through the forest as Snow White went about her business.  Once on stage I was in my element, however the moments prior to this I was far from confident. All those people watching, what if I said something wrong, or worse, fell over (easily done when your dressed head to toe as a mighty oak)! But back to my teachers sounds advice, I’m sure imagining folk naked was a great solution at some before gone time and place however, in a networking environment, I’m not so sure!

Feeling like you’re in the wrong place, don’t fit in or are not good enough is known commonly as “Imposter syndrome”. Officially it’s characterised by self-doubt and the fear of being exposed as a fraud.  According to some research, it affects nearly 58% of professionals at some point in their careers. While prevalence rates may vary, it is observed in both men and women, with some studies suggesting higher occurrences among women. Academic settings, workplace pressures and the fear of failure contribute to imposter syndrome, and in some cases even impacting on mental health and hindering professional growth. You’d be surprised by just how many people in senior or public facing roles, seeming the most confident and extroverted of individuals feel anxious or an imposter in all sorts of situations. Even myself, known for talking a lot, speaking to anyone and everyone and finding myself time after time leading teams, have too felt the weight of imposter syndrome during my career, questioning my worth and competence.

But how do you overcome this psychological barrier? Well, I’ll get to that.

A common challenge in networking is the struggle to fit in. A study by Forbes indicates that 77% of professionals believe that an absence of social skills can hinder career prospects. Over time, I’ve discovered that embracing authenticity is key to connecting with others. People appreciate genuine interactions, so being true to oneself can break down barriers and facilitate meaningful connections (I do think that this get easier with age as you become more comfortable with yourself). Yes, you may be there to promote your business, get sales leads or position yourself for that big promotion you’ve been hoping for. But, knowing your audience, finding a common connection and building upon it in the early stages of a conversation really does lay the foundations of future potential.

Navigating networking events requires honing specific skills. One effective strategy that I’ve found successful, is to ask open-ended questions that encourage dialogue. For instance, inquire about others’ experiences or opinions to foster a genuine connection. Using language like, “tell me about”, “how did you” and “what is your view on” are great starters if you’re struggling to find the words. Jotting these down as prompts on a posit note in your pocket is a great fall-back resource should you need a nudge in the moment. Even noting in bold at the top of it “I CAN do this”, can help provide you that valuable shot of confidence when you most need it.

Networking can share similar anxieties to those that people experience when public speaking. A fear that affects 75% of individuals, but practice and preparation can significantly alleviate this anxiety, and it’s the same with networking. The more that you do it, the more your confidence grows and the less anxious you will be. In my experience, anxiety feeds of off infrequency. By this, I mean that the less you do something the more anxious about doing it you can become. But by doing something frequently, practicing time after time, repetitively, it becomes something you think about less, you just do it – muscle memory. This practice in Continuous Improvement Leadership terms is known as “Kata”, but I’ll save that for another day!

When employed, networking could be a frequent or even daily occurrence, however for those self-employed, networking could be less frequent, with few opportunities to practice, fuelling that anxiety. Personally, I have been on both sides of this coin and understand the impact both scenarios can have. For those looking for opportunity to meet new people and do their “Kata”, my advice is to find a place or environment that you feel comfortable to grow in.

I have found this “safe space” in the UK Chamber of Commerce, who’s diverse and well-structured events serve as excellent platforms for networking. These gatherings are very well organised, led by professionals who can support and guide you and attract professionals from all sorts of industries, providing a diverse and dynamic environment. By attending events like these, you can tap into a wealth of opportunities, from sales, business partnerships to mentorships to help you grow and develop. If you’d like to find out more about the Chamber in your area, you can do this at www.britishchambers.org.uk/.

In conclusion, the value of networking is undeniable, and the challenges faced are part of a shared experience. Embracing these challenges and learning from them is essential for personal and professional growth. By understanding the statistics, acknowledging common fears like imposter syndrome and implementing practical tips, you can navigate the networking landscape with confidence. Go on, you’ve got this – I know you can do it!

To hear more of my ramblings, follow me on LinkedIn – Matt Sims, or check out my Blogs at Blog – Ever-So-Lean (eversolean.com)

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