Whether you are a lawyer at a law firm or practicing in-house, the benefits of engaging in networking for the development of clients and contacts are many. To name just a few perks of growing your web of contacts, attorneys who develop and nurture strong professional relationships bring in more business, have improved power to choose their own professional paths, have the chance to learn about opportunities others might miss, can get energized by meeting interesting people, and get to pay it forward by helping others achieve their goals. So, if professional networking is so beneficial, why aren’t you consistently doing it?
The Myths. Do any of the following thoughts sound familiar?
- I’m a junior lawyer, so it’s not time for business development. I’ll worry about it when the time comes.
- I don’t need networking. If I’m great at what I do, my reputation will bring clients in the door.
- Some people are natural networkers, and I’m not one of them.
- I didn’t grow up with money and contacts, so I won’t be able to generate business.
- Networking involves being fake and superficial, and that’s just not me.
- I am an introvert, so I won’t be a successful networker.
- I am uncomfortable in large groups.
- I have no idea what to say to people.
- I have nothing unique to offer (everyone and his brother is a lawyer).
- I am a do-it-yourself-er; I don’t want to ask other people for business or favors.
- I don’t like to toot my own horn.
- I’m a lawyer, for heaven’s sake, not a salesperson (and selling is distasteful).
- I have plenty of billable work to do. I have no time to waste standing around at cocktail parties making small talk.
The Truth. Look at that list of self-defeating thoughts again. With the possible exception of the first two reasons listed above, all of the comments boil down to one emotion – FEAR.
So, what might you be afraid of? Looking or sounding stupid, talking to people you don’t know, being in a large crowd, calling someone you’ve never met, not being good at networking, saying the wrong thing, not knowing what to say at all, not knowing how to enter a conversation, not knowing how to exit a conversation, being uncomfortable making introductions, forgetting people’s names, calling them by the wrong names, having broccoli in your teeth, feeling too young and inexperienced, feeling too old and irrelevant. You name it, lawyers are afraid of it. It all boils down to one thing: the fear of rejection.
And it’s understandable. No one wants to be rejected, lawyer or otherwise. Although it may be understandable to fear networking, however, it’s not desirable. The development and maintenance of professional and business relationships is just too critical to your success. So what can you do? How can you make something that seems full of pitfalls more palatable or, dare I say it, even enjoyable?
The Shift. The first step in getting past the ick factor is to reframe the term “networking.” When done properly, networking is not about trying to “get” something from people, pressuring people to do business with or make connections for you, forcing yourself to be someone you are not, or operating outside the parameters of your value system. At its core, networking is about making connections, delivering value, and helping people solve problems. In other words, it’s about giving without worrying about when you are going to get something in return (and you will get something in return).
Are some people more comfortable with networking than others? No doubt. But networking is a skill that can be learned, which is good news because you are capable of learning virtually anything if you commit yourself to it. What’s even better news is that there is no one right approach to networking. Not only can you learn how to do it, but you can do it in a way that feels comfortable for you – in other words, in a way that aligns with your goals, your personality, and your principles.
Don’t allow your trepidation about networking to get in the way of forming mutually beneficial professional relationships. Stop believing all your excuses (that’s just irrational fear getting in your way) and get out from under that rock!
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