As I mentioned, I have recently changed roles (again). I’m still in private practice doing largely legal aid work so I wasn’t expecting much of the job to change, just the people and the work environment. My current firm is much more vocal about employees’ skills and successes, though. I’m also one of the first solicitors to start in an office we have just recently opened. I knew both of these things when I took the job. Indeed, both of these things were plus points for me when I applied. What I hadn’t appreciated is that this was going to mean I would be thrust into a world that was completely unknown to me: networking
It may or may not surprise you to learn that I am not a particularly extroverted person. There is a reason that some people are out there delivering training and active on social media whilst I am here with my anonymous legal blog.
That isn’t to say I don’t like people, or don’t like interacting with people. Far from it. It’s just that I like to know ‘the rules’ for my interactions. I like to know what is expected from me, and what I expect from others in any social situation. Does that make me socially awkward? Yes. Does it make me good at my job? Also yes.
You see, because I am thinking about expectations so regularly that it has become something of a reflex now, I am actually pretty good at empathising with clients and managing their expectations. I’m also very reflective, which means I tend not to make the same mistakes twice (but plenty of different mistakes) because when something goes wrong I automatically start to think about what I could have done differently to prevent the problem.
And I am pretty confident in most workplace scenarios because it is very easy to work out what ‘the rules’ are, especially in a field like law which is very driven by rules and procedures. So I can handle a difficult conversation with a client, or a tricky meeting. If required, I can even hold my own in a hearing, although this is usually a role carried out by a barrister. In those situations I know what my role in the particular performance is.
But networking scares the living daylights out of me. The expectations are so blurred and muddy: I’m supposed to talk about myself enough that I come across as open and approachable, but not so much that I seem arrogant or abrasive. Too much work talk is frowned upon, but not enough means I’ve not really done anything to benefit my firm. I’m supposed to be remembered as that friendly lawyer that seemed like she knew her stuff, not that strange woman who talked about her cat all night. I over think before the event, and over analyse afterwards.
Yet it is a necessary part of my job now. I’ve got to be out there talking about how good the firm and my team are. We’re an ‘extra mile’ kind of firm so the kind of person I am and the level of customer service I can provide is just as important as whether I actually know how to manage a Court of Protection case.
So far, I have picked up a few tricks, and managed to not embarrass myself or anxiety-vomit, which means it’s been pretty successful on my assessment. And since I wish I had read up on networking tips before I started this job, I thought I’d share with you what I have learned in my recent trips into networking-land.
Taking a buddy has definitely been a massive help for me. If I have to go to an event I try to pick ones where I know at least one other person. It’s easier to mingle when I know I can return back to the ‘safe space’ of a friend or colleague. I’ve also found that people are much more likely to join an ongoing conversation than to start a new one with someone who is sitting quietly by themselves.
I also try to get an idea of who is going to be at an event in advance, and think about the kind of things they are likely to want to talk about. For example, I went to an event the firm held which was attended by a lot of professionals in accounting, finance and property development. Those people were not hugely interested in what I do, and were more interested in the firm and what we do differently. However, in a room with social care professionals, I can trade stories and discuss problems people face much more freely.
Food is my friend when it comes to events. If food is provided, I am much more likely to attend. There are reasons for this, which don’t involve me just liking to eat free food! Firstly, food is a good ice breaker. If I’m not sure what to say or how to start a conversation, talking about the food is not a bad place to start. Secondly, it helps me fill the awkward silences and occupy my fidgety hands. Am I sitting in a corner awkwardly wishing I was somewhere else? No, I’m just enjoying this sausage roll, actually!
The hardest thing for me has been learning to read people and take a hint. In most circumstances it is pretty clear how to bring an interaction to an end in a polite way. But when you are in assigned seating, or sharing a table, it is harder to know when someone does and does not want to talk. Everyone is trying to be polite and signals are more subtle, but I’m getting better at spotting them. I think anyway.
If nothing else, it’s been a refreshing reminder of how much I still have to learn about doing my job. It keeps me humble and has been a good way of flexing my socialisation muscles after the pandemic and a few years of remote working.
And I hope that some of you are reading this and realising that you are not alone if you feel like networking is pretty darn alien!
In case it isn’t obvious from the fact I still haven’t identified the authority I used to work for, or the organisation I now work for, the views expressed on this blog are my own opinion and not the opinion of that local authority or organisation.