Networking Anxiety: Overcoming Fear in Social Situations

Orig. Published 8/19/2014

I’m sure we’ve all been in a place where we felt like we didn’t belong; wondering if we were meant to be there and feeling like we were not enough. Entering a new realm, physically or metaphorically, is an awkward situation. There is so much to process. Like most animals, we respond to threats in various patterns. While I am sure you are familiar with “fight or flight”, do not forget the two remaining responses, “freeze or fawn”.

In socially threatening situations we tend to want to blend into our surroundings, not to draw attention to ourselves, not to be “found out” — we freeze. In fact, people usually advise you to “fake it til you make it” as a way to blend in and build confidence. While I understand the sentiment behind this advice, I can’t help but see how this can quickly lead you to fail. Let’s be honest, “faking it” in any context can only lead you down a slippery slope, while providing a false sense of security for all parties involved. While various writers have successfully explained why this is dangerous advice, I wanted to share with you a practical method to overcome your fear.

After years of social anxiety, I have put together a few key steps to help prepare for any social networking engagement. As a preliminary step, you have to stop dwelling on the skills you wish you possess. Trust me that will only lead you to failure. Instead, play to your strengths. You don’t have to pretend to be anyone, or anything, except who and what you are. However, you must do so brilliantly and without a second thought. So, these key steps to overcoming social will help you do so flawlessly:

Step 1: Breathe

Step 2: Think

This room full of colleagues, senior executives, etc. is not a pack of wolves (well, maybe). At the very least they cannot physically rip you to shreds. All other damage can be patched up. Yes words hurt, but they typically just bruise your ego. As long you are still standing, you are still striving. Chin up!

Step 3: Strike a Pose (Vogue)

Stand up straight. Do not become a shrinking violet. If you want to be regarded as a soaring eagle, you have to look like one. Strut your stuff, or rather #werk. *two snaps*

If you have no idea what I’m talking about watch the following video featuring Amy Cuddy. Her famous Ted Talk about empowerment through body posture is one that has been shared time and time again. It is usually passed on as a great example of “faking it”. In fact, Cuddy states that power posing can help you “fake it ’til you make it.” I prefer to think of it in different terms. Just like a fabulous haircut, shoes, or a brand new car can give you a shot of confidence, so can a simple change in posture. It’s not about faking it. It’s about the application of power symbols. Posture influences presence. Be mindful of it.

Step 4: Be Brave!

Sara Bareilles states it best, “Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out!” You are there for a reason. Now is that time to showcase what you have to bring to the table. “Honestly, I wanna see you be brave!”

Step 5: Repeat

Practice makes perfect. The first few times you incorporate this method it may be rough, but over time you will internalize these steps. Remember, “Oprah was not built in a day.”