Most of us experience times when we get anxious in social situations related to work. Carrying out poorly structured corporate performance evals, presenting in front of coworkers (or senior management you have little-to-no rapport with) or having to deliver bad news to your team are prime examples.
When we get nervous or fearful around others, the mini-panic we’re experiencing makes us increasingly self-centered. Our minds tend to turn on us with questioning such as “What will they think or say about ME?” or “Do I look like a fool who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?”. The conversation in our head becomes all about ‘me, me, me’ and we get stuck there for the duration of the presentation / video call / networking event, etc. We later realize that we became so focused on hiding our nerves that we forgot to be ourselves; we lacked the sincerity to connect or deliver effectively.
Let’s go over a few approaches that will make these interactions more bearable—and perhaps even enjoyable—so you can begin to leverage them as relationship-building opportunities:
Despite what you may think, you aren’t alone. Everyone deals with this on some level. Why not give this a try at the next meetup you attend: strive to become the “calming agent”, and make it your goal to have exchanges that make people forget about their own nervousness (remember, they’re nervous too!). They’ll remember you as the person who made them feel comfortable, or the one who made them laugh. Oh, and you will have forgotten about your own nervousness.
With each person you encounter, make it your goal to give them the kind of listening no one else does. Ask curious, non-boring questions that will lead them to tell you more about themselves, and then really listen. Seeking to genuinely understand what they’re all about will make a lasting impression and an opportunity to connect more meaningfully.
Put yourself in “How can I make this moment great for you?” mode with each person you meet. This is one of my favorite tools to practice in my own life and one I love to share with my clients. I once coached someone who was anxious about an upcoming “third date” with a woman he was extremely fond of. He was ‘me, me, me’-ing with every thought, saying things like “I haven’t been with a woman other than my ex-wife in the last 12 years!” and “I’m going to feel so anxious”.
So I asked him what he wanted to have out of the evening. He said he wanted her to feel cherished and special, and to enjoy herself. To which I responded: “If that’s what you want for her, why not stop focusing on your anxiety, and focus on how you’ll show up, in order for her to feel all those lovely things?”
You can apply this mindset to performance reviews or any other work related interaction. Shift your focus to how you can make the other person feel valued, motivated, encouraged. Imagine what concerns they’re having in that very moment, then be the one to create an atmosphere of trust and emotional safety, which is so key in work contexts. To be clear, this isn’t restricted to management roles only; it can be adopted by anyone desiring to build stronger connections.
For those work functions you’d really rather not attend, you might as well make the most of it. While everyone else is downing the wine to “loosen up”, make it your intention to provide value to every single person you speak with at the event. It could be offering them a solution to a problem (only if they ask you but, if you’ve been practicing #2, that won’t be hard), offering to connect with them with a potential mentor, or sharing a resource related to a topic they have to present on. By the time the event is over, your name will be buzzing as the go-to person for clever, on-point, and valuable input. The receptive feedback will only bolster your confidence.
Did you notice that simply imagining these techniques assuaged those ‘me, me, me’ thoughts of anxiety? They work because they shift your focus away from your nervousness and redirect your mental energy towards creating connection with others. This connection is what will make you memorable!
Try these out and you’ll see your self-confidence grow immensely once you stop focusing on you and turn your attention to others in constructive ways.