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Barriers to networking

Reaching out to someone for a chat or approaching a person at a networking event is a challenge for many people. We don't want to downplay this. Instead, we want to give you some advice on how to overcome some common barriers that people face when speaking to others. Here, we discuss some general fears, look at a few different scenarios and focus in on the challenges faced when speaking to people about their careers.

Networking might be something you dread. This could be the case even if it is in a setting and subject area that you know well. For example, at a conference in your research field.

To improve your confidence when reaching out and approaching others, the first place to start is by identifying your own barriers. Take a moment to reflect on what is really getting in your way. It could be more than one thing. Consider these questions:

  • Does networking energise you or leave you feeling drained?
  • What thoughts spring to mind when you think about networking?
  • What worries do you have ahead of networking events or contacting someone for advice?
  • Do you worry about practical things such as what you will say or how you might come across?

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In this video, we look at some general fears that people have around reaching out and speaking to other professionals. See if any resonate with you. We also give some advice on how you might begin to address some of these fears.

Speaking to fellow professionals

It sounds obvious, but to network effectively you must become comfortable with having conversations with fellow professionals. We have discussed general fears around approaching and speaking to others. But there may be some specific situations and scenarios that you find more challenging than others.

For some of you, speaking in groups may be more difficult that one-to-one conversations. Others may be fine speaking to those they know, but less comfortable interacting with someone for the first time. Or the dynamics between the parties in a conversation may be a challenge for some of you. For example, are they more senior to you or do they know more than you about the subject being discussed?

Perhaps all of these situations are a challenge for you. Or maybe there's something else that you find difficult when it comes to speaking to other professionals. Take the time to really think about the situations you find yourself in and which ones are the most challenging. This can help focus your attention.

Here, we discuss three example situations. The last one is particularly relevant when it comes to reaching out to people to discuss their careers. You can get more detailed advice on how to approach each of these situations in the full video on speaking with fellow professionals.

1. Speaking to someone in a position of power

As a postdoc, this could include your principal investigator, line manager or someone in a senior leadership position. Talking to authority figures is a fear that many people have. The power imbalance might affect the flow of conversation. Or cause you to be less forthcoming in your opinions. You might feel inferior or have a fear of consequences.

2. Speaking up in a group setting or public space

Making a contribution in a group setting is a great opportunity for people to quickly know who you are and stimulate follow-up conversations. But many people fear it. An example could be in a departmental meeting when you are deciding whether to make a contribution to a debate or ask a question. This is often associated with a fear of looking foolish.

3. Speaking to people with different expertise

This situation is particularly relevant when reaching out to people to understand their career and conduct informational interviews. When speaking to people who are specialised in a different area to yourself, you may have fears of what to say or be afraid of embarrassing yourself. This can prevent you from fully contributing to the conversation.

But it is also relevant within academia. For example, when collaborating with researchers on interdisciplinary projects. The feeling that you are getting more out of a conversation than the person you are speaking to can make you feel inferior or that you are being a burden on their time. The video below discusses the fears associated with talking to people with different expertise to yourself. Some tips to help you overcome these fears are also provided.

‘Identifying your own barriers and challenging yourself to practice the situations you find most difficult can improve your confidence to reach out to others. This can help you to progress in your current career or build a larger network in an area you plan to go into.


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