(Photograph: Rosmarie Voegtli)

Facing the fear: Networking

Growing up, I always had a rather shy nature until I hit my late teens. I’m not quite sure when things changed, but I would guess around the time I was 17.

Don’t get me wrong though, even to this day I still don’t enjoy the spotlight — the spotlight is the perfect position to take a fall. That said, I do enjoy meeting new people.

Meeting someone new is arguably one of life’s lotteries; if you hit the jackpot you can find a lifelong friend — a source of anecdotes, humour, solidarity and support, all backed up by a different and unique set of experiences. It’s great fun.

I‘ve never enjoyed “networking” though.

So why doesn’t “networking” feel fun?

Simply put, networking can feel a bit unnatural — as though you’re fighting off a sales pitch at every angle. A good case in point are developer meet-ups, where you’re never further than 10 yards from a business card hidden behind a fake pleasantry.

Suddenly something which should be purely social has the potential to become a huge interview, with people sizing you up and fitting you to job specs in their head. If it’s not a job spec though, it’s a “new unique SaaS product aimed at…” — but aimed at what? Most of us will have switched off by the end of that particular sentence.

No. Networking can feel quite intimidating actually — a place for those who haven’t gone to socialise, but have gone to promote and sell. If it took me until I was 17 to fully learn to socialise, how long will it take me to understand this newer set of complex rules?!

The LinkedIn Quandary

Even when you remove the physical face-to-face interactions though, networking can feel a bit.. awkward. To prove this point, simply take a look at everyone’s favourite neglected social network; LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is, to be brutally honest, somewhere I occasionally visit just to simply clear my inbox of invites from recruiters with dubious (and bordering on deceptive) job titles. I understand you can write posts on there, and I even understand there’s an unfathomably inconsistent timeline too. These are two tools I’ve yet to master though.

It’s also somewhere that I’ve been asked for dubious recommendations before, and recently I decided to cleanse my conscience and give a lot of people genuine heart-felt recommendations… whilst removing one or two which had always felt a bit ‘coerced’ to the point one of them could’ve been misconstrued as sarcastic.

Even an act as simple as writing honest recommendations seemed fraught with danger: what if they don’t like the fact I didn’t mention x? Coincidentally though, writing those LinkedIn recommendations was one of the most therapeutic things I’ve done of late — I can strangely recommend it. (‘geddit?)

(Photograph: PracticalCures)

But.. where’s the actual fear?

At the moment I’ve largely listed inconveniences — not fears. Yes, networking can seem fake and there seem to be a plethora of potential ulterior motives hidden during every introduction.. but it’s not really frightening is it?

Yet there is something inherently nerve wracking about it, as a cursory google search demonstrates. Simply put, on first appearances you would be forgiven for equating socialising with networking — until you realise that this isn’t the case…

After all, you’ve probably never heard someone refer to socialising with colleagues in a pub as a “necessary evil”, networking though? That’s a bit more plausible, and it’s the differences between those situations that allow you to see where the fear lies: being outnumbered by complete strangers, many of whom have guard up that’s stopping any kind of genuine free flowing conversation.

So how can you face that particular fear? By simply doing it of course! I’m setting myself a target for the number of events I’ll attend in the coming weeks, and further set a target for the number of people I introduce myself.. and meet. Who knows, I may even win one of life’s lotteries.

This is part of a three part series in facing everyday fears, other posts are “Learning to write” and “Going it alone”.

Fergus is a Developer and DevOps practitioner from London, where he currently works under Binary Digital.

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