Do you break out in a cold sweat at the thought of another networking event? We all recognise the importance of networking, particularly in terms of making contacts and developing our personal brand, but many of us find it difficult. Take heart in research from University of Essex academic Gillian Sandstrom and US colleagues, which found that people actually like us more than we think they do on first encounters. Her team found that we systematically underestimate how much people like us and enjoy our company. 

This should encourage us to get out there – you are making a better impression than you think. Here are our Top Tips to make the most of your networking. 

1.    Focus on them, not you
Sandstrom’s research draws attention to our narcissism - not narcissistic behaviour on a profoundly destructive level - but the tendency in all of us to be concerned with ourselves. Group analysis, a method of group psychotherapy originated by S.H. Foulkes in the 1940s, illustrates that in group situations we can be so worried about ourselves that it limits our ability to contribute.

So, if we consciously try to be less concerned with ourselves and more focused on others in the group, then our anxiety consequently diminishes. Apply this at your next networking event to help calm your anxiety and make your experience more enjoyable. 

2.    Ask questions
The best networkers are those who ask questions. At the end of a conversation, reflect on whether you have found out more about other people than they have about you. This should not be because you have been closed, but because you have asked more questions of them. You will discover areas of common interest or create opportunities to broaden your knowledge. 

If you leave a networking situation, having met new people, and have discovered where they work, what they do or what they are interested in, then that has been a successful networking experience. 

3.    Recognise the ‘liking gap’
Sandstrom’s research explains that there is a gap between how much we perceive people like us and how much they really do like us. Try not to internally question what your conversation partner is thinking of you, as it is likely they are more concerned with themselves. 

It is this fear of what others think of us that often stops us from speaking up in a group situation, but if we allow ourselves to believe that people like us more than we think, our worst fear is unfounded. 

4.    Deal with it
Put your networking into context; if you strike up a conversation with someone who does not want to talk to you, be polite and move on. This is really the worst that can happen. 

If it does, do not let this damage your confidence, your conversation partner’s reluctance is more likely about their own anxiety than about you. Once you can deal with this - then the best thing that can happen is anything other than that.  

How to build networks in practice

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