Question: When you're networking with people, what kind of help can you ask for? I'm uncomfortable about reaching out and worried that I'll be overstepping.
Answer: Match your request to your need and reciprocate when you can.
THE INNER GAME: Let yourself become open to possibilities. Each interaction you initiate creates opportunities, both for you and the person you contact. As you consider this, breathe in optimism and breathe out anxiety. Take some time for this, letting your thoughts settle.
What is your social style like? Think about your way of interacting when you're making friends or in a new setting. You may be reserved or more gregarious. Regardless, to be successful in networking, you need to be authentic. There isn't a right or wrong way to approach it, but if you seem phony, you'll have problems.
Understand your motivation for increasing your networking activity. If possible, it's a good thing to be doing when you're not under pressure. However, you may have been subject to an unexpected layoff or other change, which will require a different level of assistance.
Now, examine your fears. What do you think might happen if you reach out for help? You could get turned down; however, in general people are much more likely to want to help.
You also might be worried about feeling awkward or being judged. If so, ask yourself what the worst thing is that could happen. Then release your fear or resolve to move past it.
THE OUTER GAME: It'll help to have some concrete steps to follow, so make a plan for what you're looking for, who you'll contact and what you'll say. Use the example that you're back on the job market. Think about the following questions, which can help guide your outreach:
Then make a list of people you can start with and exactly what you'd like to ask of them. For example, you might know someone who works for a company with an opening you're pursuing. Ask them about the hiring manager and any inside information they may know about the position.
Part of the key is to find a tone that helps you feel comfortable. This, in turn, will set the other person at ease. You don't want to be seen as making demands. Avoid phrases like, "Tell me ..." or, "I need to know. ..." Instead, try phrases like, "I wonder if you can tell me about ..." or, "I'm looking for information about. ..." You particularly want to be careful to give an escape route to the other person if you're making a higher-stakes request such as an introduction or recommendation.
But don't be so tentative in your wording that the other person doesn't know what you want. That will be frustrating to you both. And always end your conversation with an offer to help them in the future.
THE LAST WORD: If you're clear but not pushy, your networking efforts are likely to be well-received.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.