Joseph Barber in an interesting recent piece on the psychology of networking offers some advice for those who find networking stressful. His key points are:
Keep your social groups small.
Focus on the needs of others to distract you from any negative emotional states.
Positively reinforce behaviours you want to see more frequently.
Use your social connectors effectively.
Barber comes from a background in animal behaviour, and spent his PhD studying chickens. He offers this as ‘easy to use, biologically sound, behavioural-based approaches to help you (and your chickens) with networking.’
The advice sounds good, and I enjoyed Barber’s piece, but it left me with a number of ‘Yes, but…’ points to make in response.
First, I don’t think networking need be as stressful as Barber makes out. Some people actually enjoy it. The subtitle is revealing, and says that Barber ‘recommends some best practices for introverts’. But not everyone is an introvert, there are some extroverts around.
I think the key constitutional difference is that extroverts have a brain stem (‘ascending reticular activating system’) that leaves them under-stimulated. Networking is fun for them because it feeds their chronic need for extra stimulation. But, for poor introverts, already suffering from cortical over-arousal, it can be just too much!
How much fun you find networking depends on how good you are at it. Surfing the tide is fun if you manage to ride the waves. The better you get at networking, the more fun it is. There is satisfaction in exercising your skill. It helps networking along to make the other person smile as early in the interaction as you can. That makes them feel good, but it makes you feel good too.
It also depends on what is going on in your body. Endorphins plat a key role in social bonding, as Robin Dunbar (Oxford based psychologist and anthropologist) has shown. Endorphins kick in best with large numbers, not just in dyadic interaction. But you get best endorphin release when everyone is acting in sync.
What is difficult about networking on this analysis is there are large numbers of people, but you are networking with one or two people at a time. That is an uncomfortable hybrid. Barber’s solution is to keep networking groups small; the alternative solution is to promote synchronous activity, such as laughing, in larger groups.
Barber comments that chickens can network with 90 other chickens. I am impressed. It is more than I would have thought. But humans can beat that, and typically network with 150 (‘Dunbar’s number’). It seems that it was endorphins, and synchronous activity like trance dancing, that enabled humans to network in such large groups.