Networking Without Borders

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Do you remember those kids in school that just seemed to get along with everyone? Those kids that could hop from lunch table to lunch table and always had the crowd in front of them excited by their presence? How did they have the confidence to put themselves out there without fear or self-doubt?

Networking can be especially difficult. Regardless of what sector you work in, you are likely to encounter some networking possibilities that are outside your comfort zone. And even though it’ll be awkward at first, putting time and energy into networking within diverse communities bridges us together and creates many more opportunities for everyone. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.

HAVE EMPATHY: When it comes to social situations, especially professional ones, have empathy. Everyone in the room you walk into has feelings and is probably just as anxious and self-conscious as you are. Once you recognize this, strangers become new friends instead of obstacles that need to be overcome. Realizing this can also help with your own social anxiety: it’s a reminder you aren’t the only one feeling out of place.

FOLLOW YOUR INTERESTS: Your interests are your best wingmen in unfamiliar social situations. If you’re more focused on the reason why you’re there, you’ll be less distracted by the possibility of embarrassing yourself in front of new people. Your interests can also open you up to new things you didn’t even know you were passionate about, introducing you to new people and opportunities.

ASK QUESTIONS: The hardest part about networking outside of your comfort zone is the talking part. Asking other people about who they are and what they do is a great way to take the focus off yourself and place it on someone else. Gearing your energy towards learning something new means you’ll be less worried about whatever you perceive your shortcomings to be. Asking questions can be a great way to break the ice.

DON’T CLIQUE UP: We all hated this type of behavior in middle school—try to avoid it when networking as well. It’s fine to have a core group of people that you do the bulk of your socializing with, but never limit yourself to that. Segregating yourself for any reason means that you are missing out on the experiences, stories and talents of others. The Twin Cities is rich with countless inspiring, skillful and creative people that have a wealth of knowledge to offer. Not only do you miss out on them when you cut yourself off, but they miss out on you.

OFFER YOUR SERVICE: If we want quality facilities, fun events, structured education and strong relationships, we all have to build it together; no one can do it alone. When I see that someone is working on a project that deserves more exposure and appreciation, I let that person know they have my help and support. Don’t be a shrinking violet when it comes to the skills you can offer: if you really think that your abilities can help someone, let it be known.

USE SOCIAL MEDIA: If you can effectively wade through the pictures of abused animals and political rants, those accounts can be put to good use exposing you to different events, images and people. Nowadays, people meet others via a friend request before ever meeting them in person and we learn about activities by someone clicking an invite button.

My mother once told me that everyone, regardless of race, gender or socio-economic background, wants the same things. We want our skills to be recognized and valued by as many people as possible, we want to be able to progress within our chosen field, and we want a rich human community that can grow and thrive. With this in mind, the things that keep us from coming together seem unimportant at best. Socializing and striving for diversity are ongoing exercises and these tips won’t turn you into the most popular person in any room overnight. But keep some of them in mind when you feel stressed or uncomfortable in a room full of strangers, and you’ll have that extra boost of confidence to be a wallflower no longer.

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