You are attending a networking event and the room starts closing in on you. Your heart is beating at twice its normal rate. The sweat on your palms and forehead is palpable. You try to pull it together, but your attempts fall flat. Uh-oh, here comes someone with an outstretched hand. No way to escape now…
If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone. Most of us have felt the kind of panic that you can only experience at traditional networking events. If you want to advance your career or meet quota, you must regularly build relationships with strangers at networking events . For some people. that exercise poses no problem at all. For others, it’s not so easy.
What Causes This Anxiety
Scientists have identified what causes this issue. There is a finger-sized part of our brain called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) that makes us sensitive to social situations. This part of our brain is filled with Von Economo neurons. These neurons were discovered by Constatine Von Economo in 1929. But it was not until the last decade when we understood how they affected our behavior.
The ACC scans your environment to help you prevent and correct social errors. In a nutshell, this area of the brain prevents you from saying or doing something stupid. So that feeling you get in social situations is your body trying to prevent you from making a social faux pas.
Normally, you would think of this as being a good thing. Almost like automatic braking in my Toyota. But since our brains can’t always distinguish safe situations from dangerous ones, our ACC goes into hyperdrive during networking events.
What Can You Do?
While there is no medication to address this issue today, there are some things you can do to self-regulate your state.
- Meditation — A few minutes of meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace, and balance that can help you stay grounded during networking events. And the good news is that these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and any event you have to attend for work or business.
- Power Poses — According to author Amy Cuddy, there are several poses that if used properly can actually make you feel calmer and more confident. Basically, its the pose used by Superman or Wonder Woman before engaging with a foe. Hands on waist, elbows out, shoulders back, chest out and feet planted firmly shoulder width. Try standing like this for a few minutes before your next event. It really works.
- Decatastrophize — One of the things that trigger the Von Economo Neurons is the sense that any mistake you make is going to be a catastrophe. The reality is career-ending faux pas’ rarely happen. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that could possibly happen if you engage at this networking event and rule out the catastrophic scenarios as they are very unlikely to happen.
While, for many of us, our brains are wired to keep us locked tightly in our shells, the result is often the opposite of the intent. Our ACC, the part of the brain that was developed to protect us from banishment and ostracism, actually prevents us from building the relationships we need in the first place. Hopefully, you can use some of the techniques above to overcome your ACC and work the next networking event you attend like a pro.