Just hearing the word "networking" can strike fear into the most competent professional. But since success in life is really about surrounding yourself with the best people, if you're willing to master networking you'll have a huge advantage over others who are too intimidated to put themselves out there. Some of my coaching business comes from people being more willing to pay for my time than ask someone to be their mentor. While I appreciate the opportunity to work with them, I won't let them think that my support is enough. They still need to build a team of people with the experience, connections, and influence to help take them further. So what are 3 simple ways you can overcome your fear of rejection?
1) Write down the worst thing that can happen.
What is holding you back from taking a step to get to know someone new? That they'll think you're weird if you reach out to them? That they'll reject you? Be offended by your interest? Take some time to reflect on your worst case scenario and greatest fears, then write them down. Seriously look at them and ask yourself whether they are actually likely to happen. I bet you'll find you're worrying about things that aren't realistic. I've contacted dozens of people for networking meetings and have never once had any of my fears come true. Sure, not everyone will have the time to talk with you but usually you'll just never get a response rather than "I'm too busy and important to help someone like you" or "you must be a weird stalker to find out how to contact me." People will actually be impressed you took the initiative and want to help you! Plus people love talking about themselves. Ask questions about how they got to their current position. What challenges they overcame. What advice they could give or what they would do differently if they could do it over again. The value of the relationship will far outweigh the likelihood of any of your fears coming true.
2) Play to your strengths.
As a natural introvert who has forced myself to become more extroverted, the sheer idea of large events makes me a bit queasy. To this day, I get a small fear rise up when I have to go to a Chamber luncheon, fundraising gala, or other social event where I know I'll need to talk to people I don't know. What if I say something stupid? What if nobody will sit with me? What if I don't know anyone? While I've learned that those fears never come true, I've prioritized networking situations where I am more comfortable. I've discovered I really enjoy getting to talk to people one on one. I'd rather know people on a deeper level than you can get in some larger group environments. I still attend those events, but take extra steps to meet important people in settings that play to my natural comfort zone and strengths. If you can walk into any room and own it, use that to your advantage. But don't think that you have to start there to become comfortable meeting new people.
3) Use tools to help you develop confidence.
Technology has made it so much easier to bring new people into your network. Just look at all the personal information we are putting out publicly about ourselves, which gives you a variety of open doors to start conversations! For example, there's someone in my community I'd always wanted to meet but never ran into at a public event. When I saw a friend share one of his posts on social media about something going on with his family, this was the perfect opportunity to reach out with an encouraging comment and message him with an invitation for coffee. People are on LinkedIn because they want to meet other people, yet how often do you use this as a tool for asking others to lunch or time to get to know them? There are also great tools like Shapr, which is like Tinder for mentoring. It takes just a few minutes to set up a short profile, and then you can swipe through other profiles and pick people you'd like to network with. If you two people pick each other, you're notified and given a way to start messaging. Because everyone comes to the app looking for mentoring, new contacts, and professional relationships, it takes the anxiety and fear out of making the ask.
The best tip I can give may sound simple, but it's guaranteed to help you grow- just do it. The more you get used to reaching out to new people, the easier it gets. Just like you strengthen your muscles with exercise, what seemed hard in the beginning will eventually be so simple you'll forget what ever scared you about it in the first place.
Like this topic? Here are some great articles that dive into the issue on a deeper level:
How to Network When Meeting People is Your Biggest Fear
10 Ways to Overcome a Fear of Networking
Take the Fear Factor Out of Networking