Making the most of social occasions, conferences, and meet-ups can help us advance our professional goals, and while it may seem that some personalities have an advantage when it comes to rocking the networking scene, that is simply not the case. Each of us have our own unique set of advantages and detriments, and learning how to remain authentic while avoiding major pitfalls can turn any of us into consummate networkers.
But when we give into insecurity or over-confidence, we make decisions that can turn off others, hurt our reputation and leave us dealing with damage control instead of growing our network.
Here are three ways many of us sabotage our own success in the social scene (names and details have been changed to prevent additional humiliation):
I met George at a meet-up for investors and entrepreneurs. He was brilliant, had a great idea for his new startup, and exuded passion for what he was doing. I watched George as he approached a group of people already deep in conversation.
When he found a break in the conversation, he immediately launched into his company pitch. As he continued in painful detail about the value of his product and his fundraising goals, I watched the group disperse one at a time until George was standing alone. The look of confusion on his face made it clear that he had no idea where things went wrong or why no one showed interest in his company pitch.
While it is vital that we keep our goals in mind when we have opportunities to meet new people who might be able to help us move forward our own goals, we also need to remember that networking is, first and foremost, about relationships.
The natural ebb and flow of conversation is derailed when we bulldoze over everyone else's attempts to contribute, and we sabotage our own efforts to build interest and support. Instead, we leave others with a negative perception of us - and our company or product.
Several of us were enjoying a lively discussion about a new product that many of us were using. When Kimberly stated a preference for a competing product, including an inaccurate statement about that product, Beverly interrupted to correct the inaccuracy. She went on to lecture our group on the genesis and evolution of the industry. The energy and interest among the group depleted as she continued to lecture, and when she finished, an awkward silence hung over the group.
It is good to remember that knowledge is a valuable asset, but when we use it as a hammer in a social setting to correct inaccuracies, we do not leave others impressed with our intellect. We simply make others want to leave. No matter how much we know about a topic, we need to remember that a social setting is not a classroom.
Tell Inappropriate Jokes
Jimmy was the life of the party, and others often encouraged his impulsive, outrageous behavior. When he landed his first professional position in a large firm, his outgoing personality and edgy humor garnered big laughs at the water cooler.
During the company's annual cookout, he was introduced to several managers. After a few moments of small talk, Jimmy launched into one of his favorite edgy jokes and was surprised that instead of laughter, several of the managers were visibly angry.
In that single impulsive decision, Jimmy derailed his own goals. Instead of growing his network to include individuals in leadership who could help him advance in the company, he gained a reputation as being insensitive, inappropriate, and not fit for advancement.
Alcohol is a given at most social events, and a drink in our hand can become an effective prop for many of us who may not feel quite comfortable when first entering a room full of strangers. And a discussion about a shared interest in the nuances of the growing brew industry or a passion for wines can be an excellent way to bond with others. But when alcohol becomes a crutch that allows us to lose our inhibitions, we run a serious risk of living with regret the next morning.
Gary had worked for Jill for several years and gained a reputation as a valuable contributor to her team. She respected the insights he shared during committee meetings and had earned several promotions. When she invited him to a private cocktail party with several community leaders and industry influencers, he was excited to gain entrance into this new, powerful community.
When Gary arrived, he was nervous. He took advantage of the open bar and downed several drinks as he worked the room. With each drink, his confidence increased - and his awareness in his own behavior decreased. Despite his insistence that he was fine, Jill insisted that she call for a ride to take him home.
While Gary was able to apologize to Jill and repair his professional relationship with his boss, he failed to capitalize on an opportunity she had provided for him to expand his network and opportunities.
While it is vital that we assimilate into the culture of an event, if we use alcohol as a means to overcome our insecurities, we may find we have even more insecurities to address when we sober up.