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Mounica Veggalam

The Networking Cringe: You Can Overcome It And Open Yourself Up To Opportunities

published6 months ago
7 min read

Hey Reader,

Happy Friday (Err.. It’s Saturday, oops)!

Hope you’re enjoying the summer (for those in the northern hemisphere) and not stuck reading this email. But since you’re here, I want to put you in a little bit of misery- because our topic today is- Networking!

So, there is one kind of challenge I put my clients through that gets them the most success and has them make vertical moves. No prizes for guessing.

Yes, yes, okay, we all know how networking leads to better growth, more opportunities, blah blah.

The importance of networking is a masterclass nobody needs.

But, I’ve observed that with a simple mindset change, networking can actually feel good. To get me to see this, my coach kept throwing me challenges involving a high degree of conversation, aka networking. (Yes, I already told him that I hate him, and he was delighted 🤦‍♀️).

So grab your favorite summer beverage and join me in this deep dive as we explore the exciting (read cringing) topic of networking. We’ll look at what makes tech people cringe at this, how to make it better, and then a simple strategy to start you off.

But first, I want to confess something.

I’m a Recovering Advice-Giver.

Let me explain.

I have 5 books I’m reading on my Kindle at any point. Apart from this, I research the heck out of a topic that I’m interested in and find the best sources out there for that topic.

When I became a parent, I read all these parenting books and arrived at the conclusion that my jam is gentle parenting. I found the best books on it and thought I had parenting figured out in the first year (of course, I didn’t. You can laugh at me.)

My point is that given any topic, I can research, think about it brilliantly and then give advice on what anyone should do.

So if you ask me anything, I’ll have suggestions for you. I’ll have advice for you on how to be better. How to advance in whatever you want to.

To be fair, It’s not that I just give advice. I walk my talk too.

Do you see where I am going with this?

I am a chronic advice-giver.

Your Brilliance got you here, but may not take you far

Usually, the people attracted to the tech industry have one trait in common - Brilliance.

Brilliance comes easy to you. It’s not that you don’t put in the hard work. But, it comes easi-ER to you than the average person.

I will go a bit far and even say you’re the smartest person in the room (most of the time).

You read, research, and acquire skills (and show them off like me 😇).

Your brilliance got you to the career position that you’re in today.

  • You got in because you could solve problems quickly.
  • Then, as you rose the ranks, you started to spot problems before they became problems and fixed them.
  • Then, if you became a tech lead or manager, you started to frame the problems well, analyze who could solve them the best, and give them ADVICE on how to solve them.

This is Amazing!

But.

I assert that your brilliance is the exact thing that is getting in the way of moving forward in your leadership.

You see, the next level of leadership is about connection and intimacy.

And…

Advice-Giving alienates you from genuine connection.

Giving advice is excellent when people ASK for it. I would say even then, we have to be extra cautious about what they are really asking.

People naturally come to you with their problems because you have brilliant solutions.

You can see angles that others can’t.

But, do you find yourself spotting problems in others’ thinking and then telling them what they SHOULD do instead?

It leaves the other person with a disempowered experience. So they withdraw a little bit. You subconsciously sense that and withdraw (“I think I spoke too much”). Then, bam, you’ve lost the sweet connection you were feeling. At that moment, there is tension, and your liking for them (and yourself) reduces.

Reflect on that for a moment…

You might start to see some patterns in your professional (and personal) relationships.

As this goes on, this keeps hitting your self-confidence (add a dash, or a truck-load if you will, of childhood experiences to it), and then, one day, you declare, “I’m an introvert. I don’t like to meet people that much.”

It can also go another way. You have many friends and have the magic of conversing with anyone at parties. You declare yourself an Extrovert. Yet, you experience isolation because your conversations are a facade (which you call easy-going and fun).

What has this got to do with networking?

EVERYTHING.

Networking feels icky because you see it as transactional as opposed to connection. And remember your relationship to ‘Connection’ from above? - A burden of awkwardness.

Then when you try, your brilliance comes up again, and you inadvertently prove to yourself that it is indeed awkward as you thought it would be.

You stop. And the cycle of social (and career) isolation continues.

Networking can feel good when you see yourself as Connection-Personified

But, wait, I have profound friendships, you might say.

Yes, that is the good news. You ARE capable of excellent connection and intimacy when the advice and judgments don’t get in the way.

In fact, just as you are the smartest person in the room, you can also be the most connected person in the room. You can tap into it when you get out of your head and into your heart more. (Note that this is different from playing dumb- a facade coming from being in your head, not heart).

I had to really drill this into my being (and I continue to do so) - Others are doing juuust fine as they are. They don’t need my expert opinion.

When I see myself as Connection Personified, my ego steps back, and I delight in people as they are. That’s when talking to acquaintances and strangers can feel good.

But having said that, it is also true that people are busy. They don’t easily hand out calendar slots like Halloween candy.

So, how do you approach them? Also, you don’t want to sit drinking coffee and listen to them talk for an hour. (Which is completely OK if you like it but might not be motivating enough when juggling 100 things yourself).

Which brings us to our next idea…

Networking can feel good when you have a Mission

Most people start networking when they want a job. It feels selfish because you have a single-sided mission. There is nothing in it for them (or at least you don’t see it.) I argue that they benefit as well, but I want to assert a different point here.

So you already have a job that you are reasonably happy with. Then all your networking efforts stop? Think again.

What if you could find a mission that’ll enhance your job AND also have you build relationships?

I want to introduce the idea of The Research Project. (Rich Litvin, one of the world’s highest-paid coaches, insists on this idea and has had massive success).

Find a research project for yourself that you genuinely want to start. This can come from your long-term goals.

  • It might be a cultural initiative you take in your org.
  • It might be a book you could write about.
  • It might be a new side project you can work on.

When you come up with a mission that you genuinely care about, it’s easy to approach people to brainstorm and ask for their advice (I know, we’re turning the tables around here).

Remember, this project should depend on other people’s ideas and experiences rather than individual siloed work. The objective is to build on their ideas and take their opinions to further your career (and build relationships along the way).

Networking can feel good when it is a way to find your role in the Industry

Your Research Project paves the way to finding your role in your Industry.

Your job is only PART of this role.

There is a bigger role for you in the Industry and the community.

How do you fit into the whole ecosystem with your unique talents, experiences, and point of view?

Networking allows you to discover that role and figure out why you do what you do. And then enable you to do it better.

Networking can feel good when it is your practice for Leadership

No question that one of the most essential leadership skills is - influencing people.

You frame the problems for your vision and mission as a leader. And then, to solve these problems, you get the right people. To be in a position to influence these people, you need to connect deeply with them

  • So you can give them fast feedback.
  • So you can together solve the toughest of problems.
  • So you can develop their leadership and set them up to replace you (as you grow further).

But, our brilliant advice-giving gets in the way of deep connection. Brilliant people want advice but withdraw a little, when they actually get it. They either feel, “I should have thought of this” or “Well, I knew this already”, both leading to a disempowered experience.

What if your role in your team is to spread connection, and create belonging for yourself and others?

An imaginative metaphor- if you can indulge - we’re not isolated trees but part of a bigger forest that thrives as a whole. Networking and building relationships is a way to spread your roots and extend your branches to lean on others and to let others lean on you.

Networking helps you practice BEING CONNECTION, leading to better relationships in your team.

At this point, I hope we can safely reframe networking as building relationships.

With that, now a million-dollar question- how the heck do I do this with my overflowing calendar?

I came up with a simple strategy that is working well for me. If you have more ideas, hit reply and tell me. I’d love to build on this.

A simple Networking strategy

  • Connect with at least 1 colleague every week - This includes your current colleagues, old colleagues, peers, mentors, and connectors (people who can connect you to others)
  • Connect with all your employers every week - This is your manager, your customers/clients, your partner team managers, and anyone who you work with closely
  • Find one potential employer/sponsor every week to follow - These are people who you have no point of contact with - Executives, Influencers, and Industry thought leaders. Develop your research project as you connect with these people.

Here’s a link to the drawing to zoom in further.

TL;DR

  • Networking can feel good as you practice being Connection.
  • Networking helps you define your role in the Industry.
  • Practice leadership through building relationships.
  • Think of a research project and start connecting!

So, there you have it. If this was insightful, hit reply and let me know (practice connection, you see 🌞).