Assuming Rapport Rather Than Rejection

People are always talking about the importance of networking, but the entire concept fills me with dread. Networking gives me the heebies. The idea of cold calling total strangers makes my palms sweaty. The idea of doing some obligatory networking feels like my ongoing struggle to eat enough vegetables. (No, I am still not eating kale. Now I read that I’m supposed to “massage” kale to remove the bitterness? Still yuck.) The word networking makes me think of it as actual work (because it is); it conjures up images of chasing down hapless strangers with business cards and begging for meaningless endorsements on LinkedIn.

Last week on the #withaphd chat, we talked about networking. Turns out, lots of people have networking anxiety. As we discovered, fears range from being perceived as desperate to failing at small talk to outright rejection. These are real and valid fears, but I’ve come to the conclusion that networking as an academic outside of academia is critical. People helping people is how we’re going to succeed.

 I’ve been working on bumping up my networking efforts recently. I often forget that I should be networking regularly, not just when looking for new opportunities or clients. I’m trying to network with new people who are outside of my usual circles and people who do things in life that are not the same things that I do in life. It’s been fun and challenging and terrifying all at the same time.

Even while trying to be out and the world and meeting new people, I’ve never quite gotten over the feeling that every interaction might lead to rejection. Recently, someone suggested to me that instead of operating on assumptions of rejection, I might try to assume rapport instead. I confess that the idea shocked me, as I’d never given much thought to my assumptions about how I connect with people.

I did some research about this idea. It was the brainchild of Nicholas Boothman, author of How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds. This is not the type of book I normally read, so the idea of assuming rapport is brand new to me. (Full disclaimer: I have not read Boothman’s book. I just happen to know that the idea of assuming rapport is a part of his work. He might have some other ideas as well that I am not aware of.)

The idea of assuming rapport felt like a small revelation to me. Thinking over my interactions with people, I realized how often I don’t do this. So often in life, I’m approaching potential relationships with the assumption that other people are out to reject me.  Approaching people with an attitude of rejection makes creating relationships harder than I suspect it has to be. I find that I’m trying too hard. I’m focusing on me rather than them, because I’m determined to prove that I’m worth someone’s time and consideration.

As I thought about this situation some more, I realized that if people are wired for connection, people actually WANT to connect with other people.

We’re making assumptions all the time about ourselves and other people. If we’re going to tell ourselves some stories about our attempts to connect with others, why not make them empowering ones rather than disempowering ones?

I have absolutely zero proof that assuming rapport has changed the way that I connect with people. I’ve only been testing it out for the last few weeks. Now when I’m meeting with someone new and I’m a little nervous about it, I get stern with myself and tell myself that yes, I’m freaking out (always good to validate feelings, even if they aren’t real), but then I tell myself to assume rapport. People WANT to talk to me, right? I psyche myself up, telling myself that people genuinely want to connect with me, even if they don’t know it yet.

Although its too early to tell, approaching people with assumptions about rapport rather than rejection seems to have changed the quality of my interactions with them. Now I just assume that the person I’m trying to get to know and I will be pals from the get go. Just in my personal, rather than scientific experience, I’m more open with people and feel like I have less to prove. I don’t work as hard to try to prove to people that I’m worth talking to and I’m more able to just be me on my own rather than me trying really really hard to get people to like me. The conversation gets to be more about genuinely getting to know the other person and enjoying their company. In fact, assuming rapport feels much like the whole “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy for dealing with impostor syndrome.

Dealing with my fears of meeting people got easier when I realized this: people actually want to connect and help. Sometimes people are looking for someone to help them solve a problem they’re having. Other people might be looking for new friends and connections too. People are incredibly willing to help if we’re brave enough to ask. Of all of the times that I’ve called up a stranger, tweeted someone I didn’t know, or invited a new person out for coffee, only two people have ever outright said no to me. (One was busy taking care of an invalid elderly parent. The other was just a weirdo.) The majority have been totally awesome and cool people to connect with. Some professional connections have turned into new personal friends. Based on my non-scientific completely anecdotal evidence, my chances of connecting with a cool person who wants to help me are incredibly high. Logically, I should be basing my ideas about networking on actual evidence rather than assumptions of rejection.

This week, I’m practicing assuming rapport.
That is all.