learning to trust my own opinions and expertise
I would never describe myself as a people-person. It’s not that I’m not nice (I am), or that I don’t like being with people (I do), it is just that I am not really very good at it. I mean, for goodness sake, you’re dealing with a person who will (and frequently does) dart and weave in order to avoid catching the train home with actual friends so that I don’t have to indulge in small talk when I’m not feeling it (I’m never feeling it).
Now, being the self-aware type, I know that networking isn’t my strength and so I purposefully place myself in opportunities to meet and connect with new people at work. Absolutely everything you read tells you just how important networking is, so I base this on the theory that practice will eventually make perfect. As I am (ahem!) currently Acting Manager of my unit (have I really not mentioned that yet?!), I am filling my calendar with appropriate events and meetings at which I can REPRESENT!
I went to one of them today – and bolted out the door as soon as the speeches were over so that I didn’t speak to anyone. No really, not a single person. That is how absolutely chicken-shit I am. I think I told myself some gibbers like Oh I’d better get back to the office and finish picking my nose (or something equally as important).
I have form in this arena – my work actually gives me plenty of opportunity to work on my networking and communication skills – lots of cocktail functions with industry reps, students and staff; Meetings with Graduate employers; University-wide education and networking events – and I put my hand up to attend more times than not, because I know that I need to Do This. And then I only talk to the people that I know for the entire time, unless champagne is involved, and then once I have drunk a bottle or so, I will do my duty and talk to randoms.
Reflecting upon my behaviour, spotlighted by this afternoon’s shame, I know that I can do this communicating and connecting bizzo. Of course I’ve done it before, with nerves, yes, but also with a good degree of success. The key, as far as I can see, is that I need to have a Purpose in order to engage with strangers effectively. It’s not just that there is then something, naturally, to talk about, but that it lends a Legitimacy to my approaching people in the first place. I think that that is the most terrifying part – saying Hi and then waiting to see if I will be accepted into further conversation. That further conversation shouldn’t be a problem: I’m generally pretty up on current affairs, I have an entertaining home life (well, you know, I have kids), I write a blog (surely that in itself makes me thoroughly fascinating), and frankly, I’m a nice person. So I can definitely contribute to a conversation without sounding like an idiot.
It seems that the trick for me might be to NOT go to every opportunity that crops up, but to find events where I can identify a purpose to my attendance, and which can also provide me with a reason for engaging others in conversation. This sounds remarkably like the social media engagement advice that is out there – the scattergun approach is useless, it is all about finding the right people and forums to engage with.
Now, tomorrow I am attending an entrepreneurial competition event. So, to put all this reflection into practice, my purpose will be to understand what support the University provides to students/academics who are looking to make an impact with their innovations and ideas. Knowing this information can directly assist me in my role, as my team receives these types of enquiries and also because Graduate Employers are increasingly offering competitions and opportunities to engage with students around an innovation and entrepreneurial space. I think this gives me something to talk about to others in the audience and at the function. I’ll let you know how I go.
Linking up today with I Blog On Tuesdays at Essentially Jess