On finding it difficult to approach others

Last time, when I was attending a networking event in a hotel as a guest, I was surrounded by strangers and I didn’t know anyone there. Some people seem to know each other and kept talking, while some people were standing there playing with their phones. My goal to attend that event was to meet new people and tried to expand my social network. However, instead of attempting to approach others, I was sitting in the corner being quiet. Later on, a couple was sitting next to me, maybe I should say hi and engaged them for small talk. But I didn’t say anything since I didn’t know what to say. I felt embarrassed to speak, and the longer I waited, the more I felt nervous and socially awkward. Time felt so long to wait for the speaker to jump on stage and got everyone back in their seats. Once there was a break time, people started to form small groups again, kept talking with each other, while I didn’t know how to interrupt them to break into their conversation. It would sound creepy to listen to others, stalk them and talk about different topics, such as the weather.

I might have done differently if I could change my mindset. To approach others, it’s not all about me. It’s about them, the people that I am approaching with. It’s not about me trying to expand my social network, it’s about what values I could bring to them in the engagement. It would not worth a conversation if there is nothing I want to get from them while there is nothing they want to get from me at the same time. A conversation starts because there are some values we could share, either it is a piece of news that is interesting or a compliment that brings happiness. By understanding that person’s problem in mind, I can offer my suggestion to the solution. By being friendly to approach others, we could both benefit from the conversation, since the others may come to the networking event for the same purpose as mine, which is to network. Worst-case scenario, if the conversation didn’t go well, if I got rejected losing face, there is no hard feeling required, and I’m not going to die as a result of this bad experience. Approach others is risk-taking, I may meet a completely bad guy with a bad conversation, but the upside of taking this calculated risk is unlimited. I could learn something new from them, I can make new friends, I could have advanced my career coincidentally. Surprised me, please.

To work on improving my weakness, I can try to approach others one at a time if I am not feeling confident to approach a larger group. As an analogy, the only way to learn swimming is to jump into the water. I could read all of the best books in the world about approaching others to network, but I would still not able to do so naturally without practising. We started to learn swimming in a swimming pool with a safety measure. Similarly, I can start approaching others in a relatively easy environment. The more I try to approach others, the more I can feel confident with my social skills, crack a joke, get into an in-depth conversation, make a real connection, instead of just talking about the weather and making a socially awkward vibe. I need to lower my unnecessary self-awareness, and paying attending to others. Shifting the focus from myself to genuinely showing interest in others makes me a good listener. By actively listening, by bringing values to the person I approach, I could inspire them, engage them, connect with them. I could bring impact to the world, starting from one person at a time.

Originally published at https://victorleungtw.com.

By Victor Leung

Experience in software development, consulting services and technical product management. Understanding of business and technology with an MBA in Finance and a Master degree in Computer Science. AWS Certified Solution Architect with experience in building products from scratch and serving as a charismatic leader.

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