Our story begins in a western suburb of London, it is a weekend and there is a public event about to take place. People have paid to attend and listen and learn from a well known expert in the field of human behaviour and they are all excited to be here. Well all except the lady sitting across from me at the coffee table. (Let’s call her Peggy)
Peggy is terrified. ‘I know I really want to go in and hear him, and it’s cost me lots of money, but how do I go into a room full of so many people, how do I talk to them and get to know them? I wish I could just sneak in and sit quietly at the back’.
The course will involve us getting into smaller groups and working together as well a listening to the speaker. We will be expected to network and meet others, for our professional development as we continue to attend this programme, so to be brutal – you just have to get on with it.
I wanted to help Peggy, as I had gone through this feeling myself and found networking difficult to start with. So I talked to her, in a random act of kindness, kind of a way, and shared with her a few ideas; ideas that transformed her approach, to the extent that two weeks later she came and found me to say what a difference my ideas had made.
Here’s what I said:
JGB -“What do you believe as you enter the room?”
Peggy – “That no one will want to talk to me, that I will have nothing to say and that I am better off alone just listening”.
JGB – “How does that serve you?”
Peggy – “Well it doesn’t help here, but I guess it protects me”
JGB – “What is a more helpful belief?”
Her answer in summary was: “…everyone here is in the same state of uncertainty, they also know few, if any other people and they may well wonder and hope that others will talk to them”. “I guess I believe that they might want to talk to me…!”
I asked Peggy to metaphorically, step into a belief, just for a moment “….so step into this belief, that all the others in the room are actually keen to meet you, to find out what you do and to tell you all about themselves too”.
This belief got her through the door. With a smile and a degree of excitement (psychologically much like fear – heart pumping, hands shaking, dry mouth).
Another idea she used was a set of images I was taught in making Small talk lead to Big talk.
She pictured a house across the street from her home – this represented the question -where do you live, where do you come from? She pictured a bi-plane flying above the house – this represented a recent trip or holiday – do you travel much, where have you been recently? Next she pictured a newspaper on the back seat of the plane – what recent events have occurred that might have affected them or caused them to have an opinion? The propellers were tennis rackets – are you keen on sport? And finally and once rapport is evident – she remembered a picture of the person standing with others, their family perhaps to represent those people they are close to – once I get talking I love to talk about my children, others hold back on personal stuff, so this is why it is last and once you are sure of the connection.
What that Peggy found was that by entering the room, confident that others felt as she did and would be grateful for her courage, she could approach them with ease and by asking a few questions about common experiences, establish a relationship, where both began to enjoy talking and moved onto subjects of greater interest and connection. She told me that two such people had now had lunch with her and a little group had formed which she was part of.
That day, Peggy’s courage had got her in a ‘stuck’ state, her fear was holding her back. But by focussing on an empowering belief – she could overcome her fear and use a simple process to transform her approach for evermore.
I guess that Peggy would have attended that day in spite of me and all would have been fine, but oddly the organisers told me that several people had paid and not showed up ……so fear can be a powerful belief, for our protection or for holding us back from our true potential.
I myself attend many networking events and enjoy talking to people, but I still find I have to gain the courage to just step into the room and get talking rather than arrive late and leave early to avoid the crowd!!