I had scheduled a meeting with our then CTO as an intro to help me better network at the company. As I sat in his office—feeling very nervous, mind you—I quickly tried to find a topic that would win him over. We spoke a little about the projects I was working on. Eventually I went into the MBA courses I was taking and why I thought it was so beneficial. I figured he knew most everything, but then he popped the awkward question. “So, tell me one thing you’ve learned that’s really interesting.” I scrambled to figure out something that would impress him as panic began to set in.
Getting Past Your Fear of Networking
One of the hardest things to do at any company is to network with people, especially for introverts. For many, networking is the last thing we want to do. Even for those who enjoy it, there’s so little time in the day to do it. It’s much easier to focus on the tasks and projects that are perpetually slipping away from us. There are so many reasons (excuses) for why we don’t do it regularly, but in the end, it just sets us back in our career development and growth.
I won’t pretend to have the perfect solution for you. If you just sit down and practice some good old-fashioned self-awareness, however, you’ll probably come up with all the real reasons you haven’t made networking at work a part of your routine. You probably already have a list of people you want to get to know. This could be because their work is interesting to you or you know a relationship is important for your growth. It’s time to get that list updated and begin scheduling time in people’s calendars. Chances are they’re more than happy to take a break from their hectic day to chat with an eager and insightful colleague.
“What if I’m wasting their time?”
“What if I’m annoying them?”
“What if they think I’m dumb?”
“What if they reject my invite?”
“What if they stand me up?”
These are all real fears that I personally think about every time I decide to schedule some time with a colleague or superior, but you know what? I’ve never regretted opening up a dialog with someone new. Unless you really have nothing at all to contribute—and I mean absolutely nothing and even if you had nothing, then you could simply ask them to talk about what they do (everyone loves that!)—most likely just getting your name out there will boost your knowledge and career prospects.
The bottom line is: if you want to grow in your career, networking is one of the most basic and important steps you need to take. It eventually gets easier, and you’ll start to enjoy it too!
And Back to The CTO…
I sat there trying to think of something profound to say to the CTO as he stared at me for what felt like minutes. My brain went through every course topic I had learned. I mentally picturing the textbook’s entire table of contents. I’m done for, is the only thing I could think. Finally I remembered one point that really stood out to me. It was a special way to get people to remember who you were and to also think you were someone important—even if you weren’t!
“Say their name,” is what I told him. “Make sure after you meet someone, whenever you greet them in the hall or elevator or anywhere else to say their name. That will make sure they pay attention to you and feel obliged to remember your name too.”
Some weeks later, walking to the cafeteria, I saw the CTO again. To my pleasant surprise he greeted me by my first name, smiling and saying, “see! I’m using your tip and it really works!”