Improve Your Networking Skills By Being Authentic
Definitely don't fake it 'til you make it ...
POSTED BY JACKY SHERMAN ON 03/05/2017 @ 8:00AM
I'm indebted to Ivan Misner, our founder, for my blog post this week. He recently undertook a survey on the top characteristics of a successful networker. Authenticity came out as one of the top five ...
Being authentic is one of the most important values you can display when networking!
copyright: peshkova / 123rf stock photo
As Ivan put it, "We have all seen people who are seemingly good at networking, but lack sincerity. Faking it isn't sustainable." That seems fairly straightforward; just be yourself, honest and up front.
That was until I read this great blog by Herminia Ibarra in the Harvard Business Review. It's called The Authenticity Paradox and it claims that we need to give some thinking around the whole subject of how we come across when operating in a public arena like networking groups.
Her blog post goes into a lot more detail, but in essence, her point is to take care as what is appropriately authentic in one scenario may not be so in another. Ever heard anyone say, "This is how I am, take it or leave it"? Be prepared with that approach for others to choose to not take it ... and where does that leave you?
"So do I advocate a complete change in your personality?"
Well no, just a little thought about which 'me' you bring with you to your networking event. Using the three principles Ibarra used to define a traditional approach to describing authenticity, let's tease out how this might apply in a networking scenario.
Be true to yourself
Which self? Being Mum is fine when you're with your children, but may not be appropriate when interacting in business. Imagine for a minute being Mum and leaning over to cut up the bacon for the person sitting next to you at a business breakfast? Ok, I've never witnessed that, but wouldn't it be great fun to see?
I have recently seen two newcomers to networking bring their corporate boss identity to the room and try to take over the meeting or vocally give it their seal of approval in best chairman of the board style. A better identity to apply is to be a peer, collaborator and friend. Change your view to think of yourself as joining a room full of equals who have come together for mutual support.
Strict coherence between what you feel and what you do
When you're feeling positive this is great, however, when in a new situation or when feeling uncomfortable, letting your feelings show or even expressing them may not be the best tactics to make new friends or motivate them to want to collaborate with you.
So a wry remark about coming out early on a rainy morning start will get nods of empathy, but complaining to all who will listen about how "you're not a morning person" or that you "hate small talk" is unlikely to make you friends or move the conversation on to a more meaningful level.
It's worth remembering that in all unfamiliar situations, we feel uncomfortable and de-skilled. Make the effort to learn the skills to operate in this environment and then you will feel more comfortable.
My advice on early mornings? If it really is that hard to get up, don't bother as you are wasting your time. Find lunchtime and evening networking groups instead.
Making value based choices
We have lots of values. They are the principles that are important for us to uphold when we go about doing things. We do have our favourites which we tend to apply in all situations. I remember one of the first lessons I learnt when training as a coach is how these help us make decisions on how to act and they also constrain us.
We will tend to use the same value even when applying it does not give us the results we want. Einstein's quote comes to mind: "The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result!". When you apply different values to different circumstances, this increases your flexibility and gives better results. Does it mean you're inauthentic?
Here are some values I picked at random from a list I found on the Internet. Most of us would say we applied all of these at some time or another. Which would you apply to a networking encounter?
Achievement, Adventure, Authority, Balance, Beauty, Boldness, Compassion, Challenge, Competency, Determination, Fairness, Faith, Fun, Growth, Happiness, Honesty, Humor, Influence, Justice, Kindness, Knowledge, Learning, Love, Loyalty, Openness, Optimism Peace, Pleasure, Popularity, Recognition, Reputation, Respect, Responsibility, Security, Self-Respect, Service, Stability, Success, Status, Trustworthiness, Wealth, Wisdom
I thought I'd finish with another anecdote from my coaching practice. After coaching a senior manager (let's call him Tim) in a company to be less aggressive in his approach to his peers, I got feedback from the CEO.
He was amazed at Tim's transformation in approach, but could not accept that it was 'real'. In his eyes, Tim was faking it. Well, at first I believed he was right, but Tim had also shared with me his amazement in "how much easier it was to get people to do things for him when he was nice to them".
"A new authenticity was born!"
In summary, whilst I would never advocate the 'fake it 'til you make it' approach, don't take your authenticity for granted. It's worth paying some attention to what parts of the total 'you' that you wish to display in public to get the results you want.
Until next time ...
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