On Finding It Difficult to Approach Others

March 09, 2021

The last time I attended a networking event at a hotel as a guest, I was surrounded by strangers. Some people seemed to know each other and carried on chatting, while others were engrossed in their phones. My goal for being there was to meet new people and expand my social circle. However, instead of approaching anyone, I sat quietly in a corner. Eventually, a couple sat next to me. Excited yet relaxed, I contemplated introducing myself and striking up a conversation. But my hesitation took over. The longer I remained silent, the more challenging it became to initiate any social interaction. As time passed, my anxiety and social awkwardness intensified, making it feel as though time had come to a standstill.

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Eventually, a speaker took the stage, and everyone returned to their seats. During the break, people reformed into small groups and resumed their conversations. I found it hard to integrate myself into any of these discussions. I felt that merely listening to people or discussing trivial matters like the weather would appear awkward.

In hindsight, I realize I could have approached the situation differently. There was no reason for me to be scared. After all, everyone was there to socialize and connect. It's not just about me; it's about collective interaction. Networking isn’t solely for expanding my social circle; it’s also about the value I can bring to the conversation. A meaningful dialogue occurs when we share ideas, whether interesting news or something that brings joy. By considering the other person's point of view, I could offer a potential solution, benefiting everyone involved. In the worst-case scenario, I risk rejection or embarrassment. However, since neither party knows the other well, no real harm is done. The upside, meanwhile, is limitless: I could learn something new, make a friend, or even advance my career.

If approaching larger groups intimidates me, I could start by interacting with individuals to overcome this shortcoming. To draw an analogy, the only way to learn to swim is to jump into the water. Reading numerous books on networking won’t help unless I practice. So, akin to learning to swim in a safety-netted pool, I could start by approaching people in more relaxed settings. The more people I meet, the more confident I become in my social skills. This confidence enables me to engage in deeper conversations and build genuine connections rather than sticking to mundane topics and generating an awkward atmosphere. By shifting my focus from myself to others, I become a better listener. Actively listening and offering insightful responses can lead to inspiring, engaging, and meaningful connections. One conversation at a time, I have the potential to make a positive impact.

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Victor Leung, who blog about business, technology and personal development. Happy to connect on LinkedIn