Don’t Listen to Mom When It Comes to Networking Advice

Thousands, perhaps millions, of men and women feel totally out of place and uncomfortable when they have to mingle with others. It doesn’t matter if the mingling crowd is just a few or hundreds—your druthers are not to be part of the scene.

What to do? The Mingling Maven ™, a.k.a. Susan RoAne has answered for just about every situation you can imagine in her latest book, How to Work A Room—The Ultimate Guide to Savvy Socializing in Person and Online. According to RoAne, 85 percent of us think of ourselves as shy and it’s a rare person who feels comfortable in all situations. She’s identified five major roadblocks to work any room successfully—be it the real thing or virtual. Here’s her Big Five:

  • Don’t talk to strangers
  • Wait to be properly introduced (The Scarlett O’Hara Syndrome).
  • Don’t be pushy. Good things come to those who wait (The Prom King/Queen Complex).
  • Better safe than sorry (Risking Rejection).
  • Mangled and mixed messages (The Intercepted Pass).

Not surprisingly, these roadblocks sound like things Mom might say. 

Let’s start with strangers—RoAne recommends redefining the term. Mom told us not to talk to strangers, any stranger. Mom’s wrong—amazing things can happen when people meet and connect in unplanned circumstances—both personally and professionally. No matter what kind of event it is, there’s a commonality among all the attendees. That common thread removes the stranger factor.

Waiting to be “properly” introduced is pure nonsense. Wait for what? Create a mini introduction of yourself that is less than 10 seconds. Depending on the group or activity you are attending, your local newspaper, a new movie, even People magazine may be your transition from being shy to being hip. Movies are a favorite of mine—talking about movies reveals lots of what people like and dislike—even their values.

Being patient doesn’t always work. RoAne suggests that you shift—become a temporary host versus being the guest. This works for me. I’ve been in several situations where I knew very few. My remedy was to station myself at the door and “act” as host—greeting arrivals, introducing myself and taking coats and wraps.

Let’s face it—everyone gets rejected at some time. Ask yourself: What do you have to lose if someone isn’t interested in talking to you (or rejecting you)—will you die, literally? Not likely. If you play it “safe” by not mingling, you may miss out in connecting with a contact that could be a career maker for you.

Mixing with others can create awkwardness. Don’t compound it by sending the wrong silent message. Your language—words, the clothing and accessories you wear and use, facial and hand gestures or overall body movements and positioning tells a story. 

Being a savvy mingler can have big payoffs—within and outside of the workplace. Others will view you as having power and being in control; you enhance your communication skills that usually leads to being better at your work; and, your like work and what you do. In the end, you get new friends and contacts, are more comfortable around others, usually learn new things, have fun and your self-confidence grows. Sounds like a win-win to me.