How to Network When You Have Social Anxiety

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Networking has a number of tangible benefits, from finding mentors who can help you navigate your career and peers who can offer advice and support, to identifying leads on your next job. However, as useful as networking is, it can also be downright terrifying.

“Anxiety is more common than not when it comes to networking,” said Christie Hunter Arscott, a career advisor, speaker, and author of the book Begin Boldly: How Women Can Reimagine Risk, Embrace Uncertainty, and Launch a Brilliant Career. “Most people report that they feel nervous or anxious before engaging in it.”

This anxiety can range from feeling butterflies in your stomach to full-blown panic at the thought of attending a networking event. However, before you give up on the idea of networking entirely, there are a number of strategies that can help reduce your anxiety, so you can create a strong professional network.

“What we do know is that networking and the power of our connections is correlated with career success and fulfillment,” Hunter Arscott said. “The question isn’t whether we are going to feel anxious. We are likely to feel anxious, but how are we going to manage those emotions and network inside of them?”

Curiosity helps decrease anxiety

One effective way to decrease your anxiety is to approach networking with a sense of curiosity. “Curiosity is a powerful tool for tackling fear and hesitation around connecting with others,” Hunter Arscott said.

As she notes, going in with curiosity helps shift attention away from our nerves, and more toward the people you are meeting. “The benefit is that you’ll learn about other people, and you’ll be more likely to find points of commonality, as well.”

As a 2017 study showed, people with a curious mindset were less affected by social rejection, and they were more well-liked by their peers. “It’s really one simple solution that can have so many benefits,” Hunter Arscott said.

In addition, the language we use can make a big difference. As research shows, the sheer thought of networking makes many people feel dirty. “How we frame something has different psychological and behavioral impacts,” Hunter Arscott said.

Because of this, Hunter Arscott shies away from using the term “networking,” and instead frames it as connecting with others. “You can choose the phrase that makes the most sense for you, but either way, the right phrase can reduce those feelings of ickiness and angst,” she said.

The sooner you start networking, the better 

When it comes to networking, it can often pay dividends years down the road, which is why it’s important to start sooner rather than later. “Starting early is essential, if you want to reach compounding returns,” Hunter Arscott said.

When it comes to longterm career success, having a broad network made up of people in a diverse range of roles, organizations, and professions, can often be beneficial. Although these relationships may not be especially beneficial in the short term, they can often prove useful later down the road, when circumstances have changed.

“One mistake I see people make is waiting until they feel they need a network to start cultivating connections, and it’s too late. You can’t wait until you are ready to transition roles or organizations to build network, as that is too little too late. Connections should start before you have a need,” Hunter Arscott said.