It should come as no surprise that the least favorite aspect of my job is networking. I am much more comfortable communicating and expressing myself in writing than in person. For one thing, I can edit myself easier. For another, my inevitable pauses disappear in writing because I have to finish a complete thought before publishing, whether by hitting the “publish” button on WordPress or the “send” button on an e-mail.
This little fear of mine gets all the more interesting due to the fact that I am a registered lobbyist. Which essentially means 85% of my job should entail networking.
Yeah. That’s fun.
I’ve managed to power through the fear and nausea in various ways. By telling myself they know less, they have less experience, they don’t care as much about the issue. I always was able to cast myself as the “expert” which made me feel more confident.
Lately, however, my boss has started backing off the lobbying and started transitioning her lobbying duties, such as networking lunches, to me as well. Meaning, I am now responsible for being our company’s liason with other lobbyists.
That is, people who have more knowledge, more experience, care as much, and are older than me. Essentially, my boss is sending me into situations as her stand-in and trusting me not to screw it up.
As someone who has pretty significant communication anxiety, here are some lessons I’ve learned through this trial by fire:
- Act Confident. No one will know you’re shaking on the inside if you have a firm handshake, friendly smile, and good posture. Granted, confidence isn’t all physical, but just like fake smiling can lead to a sunnier outlook, physically faking confidence can lead to the genuine thing.
- Be Prepared. Just like the Boy Scouts, if you walk into a situation having done your homework, you’re more likely to know the answers to questions thrown your way.
- “Let me get back to you on that” is always an acceptable answer. No one is going to know the answer to every question they’re given and no one expects you to know the answer to every question you are asked. Now, you can’t say this to every question asked and you do have to get back with them in a timely manner but it does take the pressure off in the moment.
- Recognize you’re not being set up for failure. Now this one sounds kind of paranoid but there really is no other way to put it. Your boss would not put you in a situation they don’t think you can handle. They also do not want you to go into the situation feeling uncomfortable and would probably be more than happy to sit down with you before to cover the goals of the meeting and what she wants you to walk away with.
- Get to know people. Trust me on this, it’s practically impossible to be intimidated by someone whose weekend plans you know.