I'm Matthew Setter. I'm a security researcher, privacy advocate, software engineer, and tech writer, who loves teaching people all that I know.
How to Network, Even if You Are Self-Conscious
Networking is something we should all build more actively, whether professionally or personally. It's rewarding on so many levels. But if you're self-conscious, how do you start?
Networking is something we should all do more actively, whether professionally or personally. It’s rewarding on so many levels.
Whether you want to make new friends, make new business contacts, settle in to a new neighbourhood – or something else entirely; networking or “getting to know people“, is what gives meaning to life.
Why am I writing this? Because I’m not a confident person by nature, yet I’ve learned that relationships are invaluable (especially as a freelancer). I’ve also learned that even if you started out as self-conscious as I was, it doesn’t matter.
I’m writing this to show that it doesn’t matter if you’re self-conscious or not overflowing in confidence, if you want to build relationships (or network successfully), it’s not that hard.
I Started Behind the Eight Ball
For years I hid from people. No really! Sure, if you talked to me, I’d talk back. When I felt comfortable around you, I’d likely talk till there was nothing left to say.
When I was in my comfortable circle of friends, I was likely one of the most animated, most extroverted, people in the group. But otherwise, I was the complete opposite.
At first I was OK with it. Hey, it’s the way I’d always been, as long as I can remember. You see, the person I am today started out very differently. I was the quiet one, the one who said nothing, to nobody. In primary school, I never fought back, just took beatings quietly. My grandmother even had to defend me once.
But as I grew ever older, I started to experience ever more, and ever stronger, cognitive dissonance with this situation. I watched people, seemingly effortlessly, diving in to new conversations, or starting them, with people they were just meeting.
I watched how these conversations would go on like the two people they were the oldest of friends. I watched the opportunities which flowed from these experiences, such as the opportunity to give talks and presentations, to appear on podcasts, and to be held in high regard by others, by their peers.
I wanted that too!
It annoyed me that opportunities seemed, so often, to pass me by because of my lack of confidence, and lack of willingness to put myself out there. I knew it had to change – but how? I thought that with enough effort, one day my lack of confidence would just disappear. But no – the lightning bolt never struck.
So What Changed?
If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I’ve recently committed to starting a podcast. Since I first talked about it, people asked me whether I’d have guests on. Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I could do it. What if I asked people and they said no? Who’d want to chat with me?
Perhaps the lightning bolt really did strike. Perhaps it struck yesterday. Because I decided to get over my self-consciousness. I made a list of people I’d love to have on the show. And in a flurry of tweets and emails contacted all of them.
You know what – all of them said yes.
Would I have thought differently if they’d said no. What if all had? That’s not the case, so I’m not dwelling on it. The funny thing is, after I stopped to think about it, I realised that I wasn’t as self-conscious as I’d told myself I was.
I realised that I must be ok, but have built up in my own mind that I wasn’t. Because without networking for some time, the odds of my guests saying yes are minimal. They wouldn’t have known me. We wouldn’t have had any kind of connection. Without that connection what would have encouraged them to say yes.
I stopped and realised that, though I thought of myself as a really self-confident person, I wasn’t.
What I also realised is that networking isn’t that hard. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s definitely not that hard. Networking, if we’re honest, is just getting to know people. Networking is being human. Networking is being who we are.
There’s an old saying –
No man is an island
It’s true. We can’t do much alone. Our sense of self isn’t as complete without interacting with others. Ever seen Castaway with Tom Hanks? Networking makes us who we are. It makes us a better version of who we are. It helps make us in to who we truly can be.
I’m not suggesting you should go out there and talk with every single person you can. Not all personalities fit. But that’s normal. If you don’t relate to someone, or hit if off with them – whatever. Accept it and move on. Like any skill, regardless of where you begin, with time and practice, you’ll get better, and it will get easier.
How To Start
If you’re coming from behind the eight ball, as I did, here’s a set of suggestions to help get you going:
- If you’re at a conference or event, try starting conversations with people who asked questions of a speaker which you would have asked
- When you’re next out and about, if there’s a new person in the group, say hi and make them feel welcome
- Join a group which actively encourages you to get out of your shell, like Toastmasters
- Join a club which is all about one of your hobbies. The members will have the same passion as you do, making it easy to strike up a conversation
- Take a language course – it’s amazing how your perspective can change, when you see the world through the eyes of another culture
- Travel to somewhere outside your home country – experiencing other walks of life, other cultures, and other norms broadens your mind
- Stop thinking people think negatively about you
- As you’re talking to people, try and be aware of the internal chatter. Take notice of what’s going on. Are you talking yourself out of situations?
- If you have a fear of what others think of you, ask yourself: Was anything actually said, or did I imagine it?
- Start a project which actively challenges you to regularly get out of your comfort zone of self-consciousness and insecurity. It might be small, it might be big. But whatever it is, start and commit to it
- Talk to good friends and family about the situation, and ask them to hold you to account for your new project. Ask them for regular feedback on your progress
- Family and/or friends a source of the problem? Find someone you don’t know, someone independent, and have them be your accountability post
- Be cathartic, like I’ve been today, and put it out there for all the world to see. Let everyone hold you accountable
- Give yourself a chance – perhaps you’re not that bad after all
- Research some of your heroes, some celebrities, some well known people – you’ll be surprised just how many of them are also self-conscious. Learn what they did to overcome their issues
I’m going to keep adding to this list over time. If you have suggestions, let me know in the comments.
I hope, through being open and honest, if you’re having trouble networking, or just generally self-conscious around other people, you’ll give it a second thought.
I hope that you’ll appreciate the benefits inherent in getting out and meeting new people – especially for freelancers and self-employed people. I hope you’ll see that we’re really doing it each and every day, and that it makes us better people.
All the very best. I hope that your networking improves out of sight.
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