Single people are often told to “get out there,” a phrase that can instill both anxiety and guilt. Of course, we all know it’s true—if you want to find a romantic partner, you’ll have to leave the house. But if the prospect of subjecting yourself to the scrutiny of others—while simultaneously evaluating them—makes you queasy, you’re not alone.
Fortunately, the Harvard Business Review is here to help. While a recent article published in the journal was about networking for business, not dating, it offers insights that can help anyone attempting to connect with others.
HBR says: People who believe they have the power to be helpful to others enjoy networking more than those who don’t think they have anything useful to offer. The authors note that people in junior or subordinate roles often fall into the latter category: “They focus on tangible, task-related things such as money, social connections, technical support, and information, while ignoring less obvious assets such as gratitude, recognition, and enhanced reputation.”
We say: Try offering this more subtle form of generosity. For example, most of us are terrible listeners, as we frequently devote more brainspace to what we will say next, rather than what someone else is saying now. If you can give your date the gift of your attention—if you’re really listening—that will make a much better impression than the witty one liner you’re forming in your head.
You’ll also learn something new, which leads to the second point:
HBR says: There are two basic ways that people view networking events. Some see them as an unpleasant chore, where the task is to be schmoozy and fake. Others approach these events with a sense of excitement and curiosity about the possibilities— the conversations they might have, the ideas that might spark. Not surprisingly, the people who took the more open and receptive attitude were better networkers.
We say: Instead of focusing on how much you dread the idea of selling yourself, try simply being curious about what will happen. Who will you meet tonight? What are this person’s hopes, dreams, and fears? What does this person have to teach you?
If your goal is to get to know another human being—rather than showcase what hot stuff you are—you’ll probably have a better time and make a better impression. If you feel receptive to all of the possibilities the evening might bring, you can start to relax and allow it to be what it is. Maybe you won’t meet the love of your life tonight but instead find something else, like a lead on a new job or an idea about a graduate program you’d like to pursue.
Of course, there are important differences between meeting new people for business and personal life. On the other hand, it’s not always clear which you’re doing.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.