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Professional Networking: Schmoozing For True Beginners, Part 2: The Introduction
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Professional Networking: Schmoozing For True Beginners, Part 2: The Introduction - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Schmoozing For True Beginners, Part 2: The Introduction

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Schmoozing For True Beginners, Part 2: The Introduction

As we mentioned in part 1 of this series, a certain flouting of convention has taken over the networking landscape. When this takes the shape of CEOs tossing out employee handbooks, it’s intriguing and possibly revolutionary. When it manifests itself as young people disrespecting others’ feelings or social expectations, it can be awkward, to say the least. It’s undoubtedly true that certain social formalities in the professional environment can use some shaking up, there is a time and place for that, and too many of our colleagues don’t know the difference.

Additionally, even some of the more experienced people we meet at functions and gatherings seem never to have learned the art of schmoozing, and it’s completely understandable. Schmoozing is a specialized skill that has no real equivalent outside the working world. It’s sort of like mingling at a party, but it carries with it the unspoken attachment of knowing you’re meeting people who want something from you, just as you possibly want something from them.

In an effort to restore some semblance of politeness, and to assist those among us who could use a direct explanation, we present to you the next basic step in schmoozing: the introduction.

It should go without saying that the purpose of an introduction is to let people know who you are and to learn who they are. You are more than the first name given you by your parents and the last name you inherited from them: you are all the doubts, fears, hopes, loves, experiences, and needs that permeate your being every second of the day. However, nobody has time to get into those with you just yet, so adhere your approach to the basic, surface-level stuff. Your name. Your employer. Your position. That’s it; that’s level one.

As with the handshake, eye contact is important, so teach yourself to look a person in the eye as you shake his hand and introduce yourself. The actual intro can come right before, during, or after the handshake, so just roll with it. Maintain eye contact, and even if you have to practice it in the privacy of your own home, learn to say, “It’s nice to meet you.” Many socially awkward people have difficulty with this phrase, and if you’re one of them, you need to practice your way over it. Yes, of course you don’t know for sure whether it’s actually nice to meet him or not. Don’t overthink it. Practice it until it comes as naturally to you as “Good morning.”

If you’re not very comfortable with the introduction, at this stage it’s usually okay to let the other person steer the rest of the getting-to-know-you. He or she will ask what you do. This isn’t a time for a joke, like “Play Candy Crush while pretending to crunch numbers.” The correct answer to what you do is your job title and your employer. This is the information people want, and giving any other answer puts them in the position of having to quiz you in order to get it. That’s not fair to them and it’s a drain on everyone’s energy. There is a time for a funny comment, but save it for later.

When the person you’re meeting gives his or her name, don’t worry too much about the last name; you can get that off the card you may be exchanging. Focus on the first name, since that’s what you’ll be calling the person and possibly introducing him or her as. When she says, “Sally Smith. I’m an accountant at Blank and Blank,” respond with “Sally? It’s nice to meet you” if you haven’t already said “It’s nice to meet you.” Repeating the person’s name accomplishes two things: it works toward cementing the person’s name in your mind, and it makes Sally feel good, because people love the sound of other people saying their names.

If the person guns his card at you right away, accept it gracefully and slide him yours. If not, hold back a bit and get to know the person. Learn a few common smalltalk phrases, such as, “How long have you been at Blank and Blank?” or “Oh, I hear that’s a great place to work!” or “Hey, do you know _______, who used to work there a couple of years ago?” You’re looking to extend the conversation so you can get past the shallow stuff, but you have to do this smalltalk dance in order to get there. We know: it’s a silly exercise, but it’s important to establish safe, common ground. This is why so much smalltalk seems to focus on weather. Weather is a universally shared experience, and nobody gets offended by your saying, “Boy it’s been hot lately!” “How long have you been there?” is the professional networking equivalent of “Nice weather we’ve been having, wouldn’t you say?”

If you forget a person’s name, don’t take a wild guess, and don’t play the awkward two-step around it. You’ve just met the person. It’s okay to say, at almost any point, “I’m sorry! What was your name again?” You may even find the other person is in the same spot, replying, “Sally! And your name was…?” Others will tolerate your forgetfulness so don’t forget to tolerate theirs.

To many people, this kind of interaction seems to come naturally. An educational theorist named Howard Gardner (he’s the foremost advocate of the multiple intelligences framework) believes that social, interpersonal skills are a kind of intelligence that some people are gifted with while others aren’t, the same way that some people are better with numbers and still others are better at sports. If you’re gifted or even normal in this area, you may not understand the need some have for a basic explanation of this stuff, but if you struggle in this area, you should already have been given direct instruction. Unfortunately, formal schooling often leaves social skills development to learning by experience, but that’s like expecting someone to learn trigonometric identities just by being in the same room as them. Don’t be afraid to accept help in this area if it’s always been a struggle: you’re not the only one! And it’s not fair, but you may have to practice it regularly for the rest of your life. Embrace it.

 

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Professional Networking: Schmoozing For True Beginners, Part 2: The Introduction - Executive Leadership Articles

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