Psychological Super Powers: How to Make the Most of Networking


Do you groan when you hear the word networking?

You're not alone in that. A lot of my colleagues, when we're at conferences together, kind of do the duck and, "Don't look. Don't look at me. Don't talk to me. I don't want anything to do with this corporate networking world. Avoid." But today, in our Psychological Super Powers series, we're going to talk about networking, and how you can make the most of it.

Caitlin Faas, Psychology Professor and Coach, talking about networking with you today. So let's talk, first, about what happens when you walk into a room to network. First, we walk in and we immediately start scanning and judging the room. We start looking at people, noticing things about them. Often, I'll look at outfits, or think about what people are wearing, who might look friendly, and we start to make all these snap judgments, because our brain is actually trained to do that.

We are trained to make first impressions.

It's automatic for us. We are trying to jump to conclusions and not really think about it systematically. So, you'd think that we'd systematically go through an algorithm, and kind of add things up, make judgments based on reasonable conclusions, but we're not. That's not what we're doing in this situation.

So, cognitively, we jump to conclusions about the people that we see, and often, it's not positive for us. We notice somebody's outfit and say like, "They're better dressed than I am." We start to say thing about, "They're probably not going to talk to me." It happens back-to-back-to-back in our head. So, thinking about how can we walk into the room and kind of have that inner voice paused and say, "Okay, wait a minute. Stop. What's going on here?"

We talk about this more in the worksheet, so that's the first point, thinking about the room and what's happening when we walk into a room, and how we're automatically going to make judgments.

The second thing that happens at networking events is that our brain tells us, "This is a risk. Exit. Get out of here. You're out of your comfort zone," and we immediately start to kind of shut down and not know what to do, but it's also starting to think about, "What's the worst that could happen in here?"

I can start to say things to myself like, "I'm not good enough," or, "These people are better than me," but stopping that internal dialogue, again, to say, "This is not a risky situation. I can succeed in this situation. I can make the most of this," and it keeps us from starting to swim in the land of the middle school lunch table scene, right? It's very similar to what happened in middle school. So kind of reminding ourselves, we conquered the middle school lunch table scene. We also will conquer this networking event.

The third reason we want you to think about networking today, and how to make the most of it, is that networking is actually what leads to innovation and creativity.

We know that from research, it's our weak ties that are going to bind us together. There's a lot of great work about this. If you've ready Sandy Pentland's Social Physics, or Adam Grant's Give and Take, a lot of innovative ideas and a lot of connections happen through networking, so reminding yourself of that can be important.

So, the person I'm doing this series with, Amanda Crowell, the cognitive psychologist, this is our joint series, we actually met at a conference in 2012, and it was one of those situations where we were at each other's posters, and we could have diverted and said, "No, I'm not going to engage. No, I'm going to go back to my room and not talk to people," but it turned into something where we were at each other's posters. We decided to go to lunch together that day. We became friends on Facebook.

Years went by. We didn't necessarily engage with each other that whole time, but now, we've evolved into a partnership where we're making a series like this together, and it was all through just that one instance, making sure we went to lunch together that day. So, inspiration for your networking event.

In conclusion, we want you to remember that networking is really important. We are social beings who are wired to connect with each other and to learn from each other, so use that as inspiration.

We have a three-part guide for you about how you can make the most out of your next networking event. It gives a lot of tips, and is something you can print out to remind yourself.

So, download that worksheet, and let's talk about it.