Networking for Introverts: 5 Logical Processes for Calming Your Fears

“Go introduce yourself. You’ve got nothing to be afraid of.”Scared.jpg

It’s innocent advice, but you grimace inside. Yes, there is something to be afraid of. You’ll look stupid. Worse, you’ll know you look stupid, and you’ll spend the next four hours thinking about what you’ve should’ve said and how you should’ve acted.

You know because you’re an introvert. You also know that the smiling, well-meaning person telling you to “Go introduce yourself” is an extrovert. They couldn’t possibly understand.

Or so you think.

How do I know? Because that’s exactly what I used to think. Seven years ago, I was a pimple-faced game designer with a laundry list of reasons for why I didn’t need other people. Then I tried to start a company. Facing $20,000 a month in expenses and no revenue, I realized I was never going to make a sale without getting to know someone first.

So I burned my list of reasons. Unfortunately for my company, I didn’t do it in time and everything fell apart. Fortunately for me though, it set me on a seven-year quest to become a master networker. I’ll not lie and say I’ve never been afraid again, but I have developed a collection of techniques for calming myself.

Let me share them with you.

Stop the Mental Role-Playing

Part of the definition of being an introvert is having a “rich internal world.” You’ve got a lot of stuff going on inside your head, and one of your favorite things to do is role-play. You imagine what’s going to happen, what you’re going to do, and how it’s going to pan out. With complicated tasks, it actually helps you do things better because you’ve already done them so many times in your head.

It’s invaluable skill, but don’t delude yourself into thinking it helps with everything.

When you’re imagining meeting someone and you’re terrified of it, then every time you imagine it, you just get more terrified. It’s a never-ending pattern of imagining, getting scared, imagining more, and getting more scared. You need to break the pattern and think about something else.

Refocus Your Attention

Logically, the only way to be worried about meeting someone or speaking in public is to be focused on yourself, at least subconsciously. You’re thinking about how you look, what you’ll say, how you’ll act, the way you’ll respond, and so on. The problem is, focusing on yourself will make you self-conscious and act even more awkward.

So think about something else.

Listen to music. Read a book. Talk to someone about something else. Do anything but sit around thinking. If you’re successful, you’ll subconsciously forget about what you’re about to do and start relaxing. In the minutes leading up to a meeting or presentation, this can be essential. You’ll come off as much more natural and confident.

Accept Your Imperfection

Stop for a moment and analyze your expectations. Are you expecting perfection? If you are, then you’re going to experience what’s called cognitive dissonance: anxiety resulting from disparity between your expectations and reality. In plain English, that means you’re kidding yourself.

The only solution is to align your expectations as closely to reality as possible. If you’re nervous, you’re probably going to act nervous. If you say the wrong thing under pressure, then you’ll probably say the wrong thing. If you’re awkward when speaking in public, then you’ll probably look awkward when you’re giving your speech.

Accept it. It’s counterintuitive, but you’ll probably begin to feel better and look noticeably more confident to everyone else.

Practice Self-Disclosure

The biggest mistake a lot of introverts make is to try and hide their nervousness. They think they’ll be able to fool everyone into thinking they are calm and collected, but it usually comes off as fake and makes everyone even more uncomfortable.

A better solution is to admit your nervousness upfront. Some communication teachers will tell you that this is a mistake, that you should never begin a relationship with an apology. But they’re wrong. You should always begin with authenticity, and if that means admitting your faults, then so be it.

Besides, it’s endearing. Usually, the other person will go out of their way to make you more comfortable, and you’ll have a much smoother conversation.

Realize You’re Not Alone

After speaking at a seminar, it’s common for someone to invite me out for lunch or dinner. What shocked me is the first time this happened, it was a man and his wife that were at least 10 years older than me, and the guy said, “Forgive me if I act nervous, but I’m a little intimidated.”

I just laughed. Intimidated of me? It never occurred to me that other people were probably just as nervous as I was, and that could give us something in common. It’s probably the same for you. Realize that nervousness in social situations affects millions and millions of people, and there’s no reason to beat yourself up over it.

In fact, stop thinking of yourself as an introvert at all. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, it will create a mental barrier between you and everyone else, which only makes it harder to get to know people.

If you have to choose a label, just call yourself, “Human.” By extension, introducing yourself to another human shouldn’t be a big deal. You’re essentially the same. So maybe, just maybe the “extrovert” that told you, “You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” wasn’t so wrong after all.

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