My fiance, AJ, and I have to do a lot of networking in our profession. As an introvert, this has always been difficult (and often awkward) for me. Over time, I’ve learned to navigate most networking situations, but still–awkward moments sometimes happen. As such, I’ve created this handy guide to surviving some awkward networking situations. (Note: in my experience, there are many, many awkward networking moments, so I’ll cover them over a series of posts.)
Awkward Situation 1: Your Friend Doesn’t Introduce You to the Person They’re Talking to
You’re at a cocktail reception, in line at Target, sitting in a work meeting and your friend/boss/co-worker begins a conversation with someone you don’t know and doesn’t introduce you.
What do you do? What do you DO??
In the past, I have: a. smiled awkwardly until Unknown Person left or asked for my name, b. silently blamed myself for not being worthy of an introduction/being too shy to introduce myself/getting into this situation in the first place. Now, however, I’ve come to understand that a lack of manners on my boss/co-worker/friend’s part does not constitute a faux pas on my part. So, I stifle the urge to mention their rudeness and say something along these lines:
“Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met–I’m Candace Lamb.”
Depending on the context, I then mention my job title or how I know our rude mutual acquaintance. At this point, Unknown Person typically introduces themselves and gracefully transitions me into the conversation. That doesn’t always happen, though, which leads me to Awkward Situation 2.
Awkward Situation 2: You Introduce Yourself to Unknown Person and they Continue Conversation as if You Don’t Exist
Does this happen to everyone? Because it sure has happened to me–I pick a friend to attend party/Target shopping trip/business meeting with. Friend sees Unknown Person and begins conversation. I’m introduced (or not–see Awkward Situation 1) and then Friend and Unknown Person continue conversation as if I’m not there.
What do you do? What do you do??
I’m not going to lie–this is one of my most dreaded awkward networking situations. In my experience, there are two decent(ish) ways to gracefully handle this sort of situation:
a. If they’re talking about something you’d like to know about, and/or the Unknown Person is someone you’d like to develop a networking relationship with, ask a clarifying question. (Example: Unknown Person: “She was recently promoted to director and is working on Important Business Strategies…” You: “Would that be Jane Doe? I’ve been interested to know how that transition is going…”) Most people are happy to share information, so ideally, this will help grease the wheels of the conversation.
b. If they’re talking about something that isn’t your business, not of interest to you, etc., then gracefully exit the conversation. (Example: You: “Unknown Person, it was a pleasure to meet you. If you’ll excuse me, I need to say hello to John Doe. Friend, I’ll catch up with you in a bit. Good night.”)
Awkward Networking Situation 3: Networking with Someone Who Intimidates You
Though I am fairly introverted, I don’t often find myself too intimidated by any one person. There are, however, a few people who I so admire or am so afraid of that it hinders my ability to have a coherent conversation with them. I either freeze and smile awkwardly or ask them way too many questions about their career. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to combat self-humiliation:
a. Remember that they’re people, too. It sounds trite, but keeping in mind that they are simply a human being–with a family, weaknesses, and people who intimidate them sometimes calms my nerves and discourages freezing or talking too much.
b. Take this for the opportunity it is. If the Intimidating Person is someone I admire, I say something mild like, “I really admire your career” and then follow up with “Would you be able to meet with me sometime to discuss your company/career/educational background?” Instead of overwhelming them with a million questions at a networking event, I use the Awkward Situation as an opportunity to develop a relationship–which is what networking is really all about.
One of my main barriers to overcoming awkward networking situations has always been the fear that these awkward situations only happen to me and my fellow awkward people. In truth, we are all awkward sometimes and we all experience these awkward situations. Remembering that has helped me to not take it personally when my acquaintance doesn’t introduce me or not make the situation worse by feeling that I’m the only person in the room feeling awkward. In Part II of Surviving Awkward Networking Moments, I’ll discuss forgetting someone’s name, being clumsy (I often drop food on myself even in the best of situations) and using awkward moments to your advantage.
Pro-tip: Looking at your phone during a networking event only makes you look more awkward.