A while ago, I told you that there is no such thing as luck, and now I shall explode another myth – that some people are good at things, while others are not. Rubbish! Anyone can learn to be good at anything. Read on to find out how to recreate the successes you see other people enjoying.
Confessions of a Wallflower
Fifteen years ago, when I was working in the UK government, part of my job involved attending conferences and meetings all over the world. I hated it. I’m an introverted person; I feel tired after social occasions, and at parties (when I can’t avoid them) I am usually clock-watching until it’s no longer impolite to leave.
A job that required me to approach strangers, make connections, and form relationships very quickly made me extremely uncomfortable.
If you want a skill – learn it
I had a colleague who was wonderfully out-going. Drink in hand, she worked the room, seemed to know everyone, and had a bulging book of international contacts. Having recently had NLP training, I tried one of the most famous Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques – modelling, to learn how to be more like her.
For a few days, I watched her at work, trying to catch her social success in action. I noticed that she didn’t wait for people to approach her, and that she seemed to have no trouble breaking into group conversations. She never seemed to be rebuffed. That was immediately a lesson for me – professional people at work are not like teenagers in the school playground – they are not going to stare at you in contemptuous silence until you slink away.
Ask an expert to teach you
The next thing I did was to take her out for a cup of coffee, and simply asked how she did it. At first, she was very surprised to be asked – it had never occurred to her that she had this skill, or that it involved techniques that she was using subconsciously.
The NLP Metamodel gives a series of questions to help you and the person you are talking to really dig deep into understanding the technique. For example: have they ever considered what would happen if they did something different? What specifically do they do before implementing a behaviour? To what do they compare their results?
It turned into a very deep conversation, with her really exploring her childhood and attitudes to life. Obviously, I couldn’t recreate her upbringing for myself, but I did learn some very useful tips: Prepare, don’t just turn up. Assume you’re welcome. Keep the connection going.
Before an event, she found out who was going to be there, and what they did. She identified the people that it would be most useful for her to meet and she would contact the host of the meeting, or a mutual friend, and ask to be introduced.
Having found people she needed to meet, she spent some time researching them, gleaning enough information about their work to be able to ask intelligent questions when they were face to face.
She would set herself a target of gaining at least three new contacts by the end of the event.
She practised mental rehearsal: envisaging herself at the event and seeing herself being lively and engaging. With my prompting, she also began to identify the sights, sounds, and other submodalities that she associated with networking successfully.
She confided that actually, she was quite a shy person, but before going into an event, she “channelled Boadicea” as she put it. She stood straight, put her shoulders back, and walked into the room like she owned it. The classic fake-it-‘til-you-make-it.
It never occurred to her that people wouldn’t want to connect. “It’s a networking event,” she said. “They are really grateful when you break the ice for them.” She had a number of tricks for remembering names and faces, and was an excellent listener, really making people feel they were the centre of her attention.
There’s no point in making a connection that you don’t use. Following the event, she spent a morning emailing the people that she had met, thanking them for their time, and suggesting ways to work together. She never let a connection go cold.
Did NLP change me?
I learned a lot from that conversation. Fifteen years on, I am still introverted and would much rather read a book than go to a cocktail party; but in a work situation, just as I put on a smart suit of clothes, I also put on my ‘schmoozer’ persona. I talk to strangers, coax them into volunteering with our school, excel at putting people at ease, and have a long list of useful people to turn to in any situation.
NLP modelling is a useful technique for a wide range of situations where you want to get better at what you do – not just for helping introverts to network. Why not give it a try?