“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t……you’re right.”
― Henry Ford
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how many of us become conditioned, through fear, to think about ourselves in a certain way and to build “stories” about ourselves which simply aren’t true. Left unchecked, these stories can seriously limit our growth and development, both in business and our lives as a whole.
We tell ourselves, for example, that we don’t have the confidence to do X, Y or Z, and, because of this belief, we avoid doing those things. This way, our fear keeps us “safe”; it keeps us firmly planted within our comfort zone and we don’t move forward. We resign ourselves to the conditioning and accept that we simply can’t do those things. And that will be the end of the story…unless we choose to examine those beliefs, and approach from a different perspective.
Let’s consider for a moment that these limiting beliefs are nothing more than our fear talking us out of doing something which makes us feel UNCOMFORTABLE. Now we have something to work with.
Take for example, the much-maligned business of networking. So many times VAs tell me that they don’t go to networking events because they don’t have the confidence to do it. I sympathise with this, I really do. Let’s face it, the thought of standing up and pitching to a bunch of super-confident, well-seasoned and judgmental people, which is normally only our perception by the way, or running around thrusting business cards at strangers, is enough to make even the most outgoing of us feel decidedly awkward.
But the good news is that networking doesn’t have to be like that. Once you’ve identified that the real issue is that those elements of networking make you feel extremely uncomfortable, you can assess what you ARE comfortable with and start to build on that.
When I first started networking, I knew that I felt deeply uncomfortable marching up to strangers to introduce myself. I also knew, however, that I was reasonably at ease standing by the coffee table, opening conversations with friendly ice-breakers “I love your handbag!” or “I hope you like strong coffee!” or something about the weather, whatever, so long as I was interacting in a way that felt human and, well, like ME.
Of course, networking is ultimately about creating business, but the business comes as a happy by-product of the relationships you develop. Approaching all your interactions with the sole purpose of extracting sales will feel unnatural, forced and will put others off. You’ll feel much more comfortable, relaxed and less under-pressure if you think of it as a way to build trust and to develop relationships that could potentially last a lifetime. You’ll also find that others are more open and receptive to you.
The key is to stop telling yourself that you don’t have the confidence, and accept that what you’re feeling is discomfort. Discomfort is not a red light, more of a “get ready” light. It encourages you to pause and think about what you ARE comfortable with so that you can work with it and move forward.
It’s important that you network in a way that makes sense to you. Maybe you like to network at the bar, or the coffee table; maybe you go to a book club, maybe you go to workshops, maybe you feel more relaxed chatting to other delegates at conferences. The important thing is to figure out what you’re comfortable with and look for opportunities that enable you to do that. That way, you’ll create great relationships that will lead into friendships, and those are the best people to do business with.
Oh, and a word about those super-confident, well-seasoned and judgemental networkers that you’re worried about…..they’re probably just as terrified as you are. Some of them might be first-timers, some of them might be dry-mouthed and shaking in their shoes, and I’ll GUARANTEE that some of them are praying for a friendly face and a warm ice-breaker at the coffee table!