Something has always bothered me about the concept of networking. I understand it, I accept its value, but I’m shit at it and so I hate it, which bothers me. The industry in which I currently work calls for a lot of networking so, unfortunately for me, they kinda press the importance of it by inducting new starters with a series of forced networking scenarios – or what I like to call Fresh Hell Scenarios! In principle, I should be good at networking. I like talking, I like meeting new people, I’m a good listener, but add in that extra element of networking and bad things will happen. Every single time. It’s one of those things in life you can always rely on.
I was recently told that I had to go out of town for two long days of FHS!, so you can imagine my trepidation at this news. I won’t take you through a blow-by-blow of my 48 hour faux pas, but I will try to give some advice based upon my learnings.
If you have nothing socially acceptable to add during small talk with relative strangers/colleagues, just offer an acknowledgement of the topic and give a gesture of interest. For example, if, during a conversation over lunch, one of said colleagues tells a humorous tale about tackling a 2lb meatball sub sandwich, either of the following could be deemed as an acceptable response.
“How interesting, I didn’t know you could get 2lb meatball sub sandwiches.”
“A 2lb meatball sub sandwich, you say? Sounds impressive.”
If you don’t know how much 2lbs is, just ask! When you have your answer, revert back to the above examples. DO NOT, however, try to figure it out, out loud, by going to that weird place in your mind that you know totally freaks people out.
My response: “2lb? What’s that equivalent to, a baby’s leg? I just mean, if it’s a chubby newborn, a leg would be about 2lb give or take. Yeah, that is pretty big. I couldn’t imagine trying to eat a chubby baby’s leg in a sandwich.” … … Tumbleweed. A bit more tumbleweed. Awkward coughing. More tumbleweed.
I mean, I know why I thought it – because I only know pounds and ounces based on newborn baby weights. I don’t bake, so it makes perfect sense, but there is no sense in saying that shit out loud. Keep that weird place for close family and friends, seriously. Silence ensued and I was, at least, granted the gift of solitude for the first chunk of the afternoon. Silver lining!
I am strongly of the opinion that remaining inconspicuous during FHS! is an excellent idea. Lay low, stay out of the focus of enthusiastic facilitators, avoid eye contact with over-keen loners scanning the room for their kind and keep yourself to the periphery at all times. That way you can cruise through as painlessly as is possible. You’ll still have to take part, but do it right and your participation can be kept to a polite minimum. Do not, however, force yourself to the periphery of an over-crowded lift, full of both enthusiastic inductees and high level executives, so far that your own ass accidentally presses the emergency alarm button and triggers off a loud message over the lift’s PA. I WOULDN’T RECOMMEND IT! If anyone else told me they had done this, I’d be all, “whatever, nobody’s butt can press buttons without them knowing it.” BUTT, I guess, sometimes they can and now we all know. Urrrgh!
If you find that more relaxed and social environments help you to break the ice and ditch the awkwardness, then going for drinks with new colleagues is a great idea. I highly recommend it. There’s almost always some kind of social networking – not twatting about online (no judgement, I do it too), but actual networking socially face-to-face – after FHS! so be sure to find out where it’s taking place. If no one informs you of any such event, just ask. If you ask and no one invites you along with them, hell, just invite yourself – we’re all in this shit together, right. If you then invite yourself to tag along with the group of people that you’ve been sat with all afternoon – not the ones from lunch, as they won’t look you in the eye anymore, but a new group – because you don’t know where the pub is and they say, “yeah, sure, we’ll meet you by the lift, “ and you say, “great, I’m just going to get my coat,” but then you get your coat and go to the lift, even though you had a bad experience earlier and would much rather take the stairs, and 10 minutes pass by and nobody shows up and you realise they’ve probably gone to the pub without you…GIVE UP. Just give it up, girl. Don’t nobody wanna go drinking with the baby leg sandwich eater whose ass can press buttons by itself. Go on back to your hotel room and think about what you’ve done. There’s no point kissing your teeth at the other losers left behind either. Don’t get mad, get reflective.
Cultural Awareness Tip
Just a quick word to the wise, for anyone like me who still wasn’t quite sure: EVERYONE knows what it means when you kiss your teeth at them. It is not a little “in” joke anymore. Not one person is fooled when you try to style it out like you just had something stuck in your teeth. (Damn it.)
Learning As You Go
If you get stuck feeling like a fish out of water and you can’t go swimming home to the comfort of those who understand your “qualities” and like you in spite of them, then – all joking aside now – you just have to pick yourself up, take a few deep breaths (but not too many) and find your way through it. If people think you’re weird, fuck ‘em, maybe they’re weird! I struggle with these situations because I have low self-esteem. What I’ve come to learn is, a ton of the coolest people I’ve ever met also battle with low self-esteem, so I just remember how awesome they are in my eyes and get on with what I’ve got to do. It’s great to have funny stories to tell and everything, but it’s true that it doesn’t always feel that funny. So, advice from someone who’s spent a lifetime being a tiny bit too odd to be cool, just remember that things are never truly as bad as they seem at the time. You’ll totally laugh about it later, or at least learn from it, so do like me and just suck in your tummy and strut – fuck ‘em.