Our ability to achieve and our sense of fulfillment are often determined by our network of relationships. And this couldn’t be truer for entrepreneurs. Everything is easier when we have relationships we can count on for support, access and collaboration. Yet too often bright, talented people simply don’t devote the time and energy required to create and nurture these relationships.
In my coaching experience, the same excuses surface repeatedly in working with entrepreneurs who haven’t taken the time to create a network. Owning the excuses is the way to step beyond them, and once you do, you can apply your creativity to eliminating these constraints.
1. I don’t have time.
Once you make meeting people a priority, you’ll find the time. This quote by Brian Andreas, creator of StoryPeople.com, fits: “Everything changed the day I figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in my life.”
Networking opportunities are probably already in your schedule. Look at your calendar at the beginning of the week and the events and meetings you plan to attend. Then get there early and plan on staying late, making a point to connect with people before and after. Using the events already on your calendar is the easiest path forward.
2. I’m uncomfortable meeting new people.
You are not alone. My conversational preference is to be quiet and reflective rather than outgoing. But comfort is not a prerequisite. You can master working the room with practice.
Start by asking people follow-up questions when they speak. Observe colleagues who are gifted at conversing with people. How do they open conversations? How do people who excel at working the room begin their conversations with you? How do senior people interact with others in meetings? Identify things they do that you can try. After each opportunity you have to meet and interact with people, reflect on what else you might have done.
3. I am unsure of how to start a conversation.
Turn your curiosity loose. Give yourself permission to ask almost anything—ask about people’s projects, passions, careers, and families. Sincerity will overcome any shortcomings in skill.
Develop a set of conversation openers that feel right to you. Here is a starter set:
I’d love to hear about your career.
Tell me about your early days in the organization.
Tell me about your family.
What are your outside interests? How did you discover that interest?
What projects are you working on?
Do you have any interesting trips or events coming up?
I have no idea what you do—can you explain that to me?
Be willing to ask simple questions. Look for broad, open-ended questions that allow the other person to go almost anywhere with their response. Then devote yourself to listening.
4. I can’t think of anything to say.
Being able to talk on demand is a critical skill. When someone says, “Tell me about your startup,” respond with, “Thanks for asking,” and take three to five minutes sharing about your project. Don’t worry about being witty — just talk about things you care about. Then reciprocate, saying, “I’d love to hear about what you’re working on.”
5. Networking is just so inauthentic.
If your intention is to get into an interesting conversation with someone, you are being authentic. You may not be comfortable, but you’re authentic. Susan Scott, in Fierce Conversations, says, “Authenticity is not something you have; it is something you choose.” And she couldn’t be more right.
If you tend not to be outgoing, it will be a bit uncomfortable to start. Good conversation is like a dance. You lead with a question or some personal remarks, and the other person follows. The idea here is to be genuine and friendly, not brilliant and captivating.
With intention and practice you’ll quickly discover that you can be good at this. Better yet, you’ll find the relationships you create in the process will allow for more effective communication and reciprocal support both in work and in life.