The Value of Authenticity in Networking

October 17, 2017 Sabrah Wilkerson

Are you always concerned with making a good first impression?  Do you often feel unsure of how to approach the conversation with a group of people you are meeting for the first time? Don’t worry, it’s common to feel anxious and uncertain in networking situations. When meeting new people, we tend to put a lot of stress on ourselves to shine and come across well, in order to make a connection.

As hard as we may try, research suggests that you don’t have a lot of time to work with—psychologists have found that we only have a seven second window to make a good first impression when meeting someone.

So, with such little time, how do we successfully construct a connection when networking? One commonly floated technique is to cater the conversation to the other person’s expectations and interests—to tailor the conversation to them. However, research from the business schools at Harvard and Wharton actually found this approach to be ineffective; moreover, it can actually erode the potential for a relationship, especially since you most often have incomplete information about expectations and interests of those with whom you are trying to connect. Incomplete information can lead to guessing, which can lead to stress. As the research notes, “when a person tries to anticipate and fulfill others’ preferences, it increases his or her anxiety and feelings of inauthenticity,” and, in reality; people prefer when others behave genuinely.

As difficult as it may seem, connection with others is so valuable and necessary. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, author, and speaker, is quoted as saying, “connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

How can we make the most of those seven seconds and beyond? How can we do that while remaining authentic and successfully make a positive first impression?

Here are some tips to help you during your next networking opportunity:

  1. Smile and make eye contact
  2. Share your business card
  3. Ask open-ended questions, for example:
    1. What do you like to do in your spare time?
    2. What are your top priorities in your business at the moment?
    3. What do you like most about what you do?
  4. Use the other person’s name in conversation more than once
  5. Ask if you can connect on LinkedIn

And lastly…remember to take a deep breath and be yourself.

For additional networking help, check out the following resources:

About the Author

Sabrah Wilkerson

Sabrah Wilkerson is the Learning & Development Manager at Schellman. Sabrah has more than 15 years of experience in the learning and development field including consulting, needs analysis, design, development, facilitation, program and project management, and the evaluation of programs for leaders and employees for soft skills and technical skills. Sabrah’s primary focus is on employee development, and she is passionate about helping others achieve their full potential.

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