Building a robust professional network is an important part of having a successful career. But sometimes networking conversations can feel more than a little awkward.
All relationships have to start somewhere. But conversations can feel a bit uncomfortable when you’re just getting to know someone, even if it is in a professional context. In order to build a strong professional network, you’ll need to be able to navigate some uncomfortable moments that inevitably arise during these types of interactions. Here are some common cringe-worthy occurrences and some tips for how to deal:
1 – There are uncomfortably long silences
There are breaks in conversation from time to time. It happens. But that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. Thankfully, there is a way to go about minimizing the frequency, and the negative impact, of these gaps. Basically, it comes down to preparing in advance.
Before you attend any networking event, come up with a few topics of conversation to fall back on when the conversation starts to wear thin. Also, think up a short list of a few questions that you can ask the new people you might meet on these occasions. Then, when the uncomfortable pauses arise, you’ll be ready.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Before you attend any networking event, come up with a few topics of conversation or questions to fall back on when the conversation starts to wear thin. Then, when the uncomfortable pauses arise, you’ll be ready.” quote=”Before you attend any networking event, come up with a few topics of conversation or questions to fall back on when the conversation starts to wear thin. Then, when the uncomfortable pauses arise, you’ll be ready.”]
2 – The other person is talking way too much
Some people are real talkers, especially when they’re nervous. These folks can make it hard to get a word in edgewise. Others talk about things they probably shouldn’t, they gossip about coworkers for example, and that can be awfully uncomfortable too. Whatever you do, don’t mimic their bad behavior (mimicry and mirroring can come naturally in these situations) and engage in the conversation against your better judgement. In these instances, you’re better off trying to find a way to change the tone of the conversation.
It’s rude to interrupt, but in some cases it just has to be done. If you’re networking with someone who’s rattling on and on (or talking about things you’d rather not hear about) you might have to jump in. You can try changing the topic by asking a question that steers things in a different direction. But if that doesn’t work, you might just have to excuse yourself. No explanation is required here. Simply say, “Excuse me, I have to move along now, but it has been nice talking with you.”
It might feel a little awkward at first, but politely stepping away from a conversation that isn’t getting you anywhere is the right thing to do. Networking opportunities are precious. You don’t want to squander the time away.
3 – You’re the nervous one
Nerves can really stand in the way of meeting new people and forging relationships. You might find you’re the one talking too much, or too little. Or, you might notice you’re fidgeting a lot or just saying and doing things that you know don’t reflect the best version of yourself. Nervousness can do that.
If you struggle with social anxiety or social phobia, you should seek support from a professional. Learning to manage your anxiety in healthy ways will do wonders for your career and for your life in general. If your nervousness is a little more run-of-the-mill, there are a few other tactics you can try first.
To start with, try being honest (with yourself and the person you’re speaking with) and simply say that you’re nervous. Explain that you’re excited about this conversation and that it’s making you feel a little anxious. That’s perfectly all right, and it might even flatter the other person. It also might help to reduce your nerves. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to slow down.
Also, keep in mind that a little bit of nervousness is actually good for you. It’s a sign that what you’re doing really matters to you and that you want to be your best. Your body’s natural response to this might feel a little uncomfortable, but it could actually improve your performance by helping you feel more energized and more fully present in the moment.
4 – You encounter random rudeness
You might bump into someone who is randomly downright rude to you during your networking experiences. Maybe they think they have nothing to learn, or gain, from talking to you. But that’s no excuse.
The best thing you can do in this kind of a situation is to learn from it, not take it personally, and move on. Start by allowing the experience to inform you about the person you just met. If they were short or otherwise inappropriate with you, take note of that. Next, remind yourself that the incident says more about the other person than it does about you. Don’t take it personally. Finally, simply excuse yourself from the conversation and shake it off. Don’t allow one negative interaction to throw you off of your networking game.
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