Is Networking Harder for Women? 5 Ways to Overcome Your Fears and Gain Confidence

Networking for women can be scary.  There, I said it.  The thought walking into a room full of strangers, the associated burden of being bubbly and witty, and the pressure to succeed can make even the most confident of us weak in the knees with nerves.  Fear of embarrassment, fear of strangers – everything that networking is can leave us feeling fragile and timid, and turning what could have been (maybe, possibly) an enjoyable opportunity into a horror show to be endured.

Networking for Women is Hard

For women, networking can be particularly stressful because we have an additional, gender-specific fear to worry about.  That is, the fear of bragging.  From an early age, boys are encouraged and rewarded for being confident, ambitious, self-promotional, and vocally loud.  We girls, on the other hand, have different expectations placed on us.  It’s considered far more socially appropriate and acceptable for females to be softer spoken, nurturing, accommodating, and deferential.   We’re taught that bragging is unladylike, it’s impolite, and “nice girls” don’t do it. Brag, boast, crow, swagger – whatever you want to call it – for girls, singing our own praises is a big no-no.

Unfortunately, just learning to speak up and brag more isn’t the answer.  In fact, a Yale University study showed that women who brag and self-promote are “violating gender stereotypes” and are viewed as generally less warm and likeable.  And, members of BOTH sexes judge women more harshly if they come across as bragging, even though men brag three times as often.

So, what’s a woman entrepreneur or small business owner to do?  Business networking is all about sharing the most positive aspects of yourself and your business to build mutually beneficial relationships.  How can we do that without bragging?  The trick is, learn to brag in a way that feels good to you.

5 Ways to Brag Like a Girl

  • Brag more like a man. No, not louder and more aggressively (those Yalies said that’s no bueno), but rather in word choice.  There are a few things women do with our words that undermine our own accomplishments and authority.  First, we tend to want to give credit away to others rather than claim it for ourselves. We’re very “I” averse – we prefer to be democratic and give credit to a team or another person rather than take credit for ourselves.  Second, we women have a tendency to downplay our achievements by adding negative elements.  Instead of saying “I rocked that project,” we’re more likely to point out “it was hard to get the team on board, and we were lacking in resources, but eventually, we pulled it together.”  Change the words your use – learn to love “I” and “me.” Stay positive, ladies, and claim your success!
  • Create a “bragalogue”. Peggy Klaus , author of “Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn,” suggests developing a “brag bag”, or collection of short, colorful statements about you and your accomplishments.  She even offers 12 questions that will help you craft your “bragalogue”, which can include everything from your elevator pitch to an introduction for networking events to a client pitch or cocktail party.  Your bragalogue should be memorable, entertaining, and make the listener want to hear more.  Create your pithy, engaging statements, and then practice, practice, practice them so that they sound natural to you and your listener.
  • Reframe your story. In my coaching, I work with women in reframing their negative thoughts into affirmative statements.  You can try this exercise – on a sheet of paper, draw a line to create two columns.  In the left column, write down all your fears about bragging and networking or whatever other fears you’re facing.  In the right hand column, reframe those statements and create positive affirmations.  For instance, if one of your fears is “People won’t want to hear about my product or service,” you might create an affirmation that says “I have something of value to offer the marketplace.”
  • Use body language. Did you know that your posture can have a real impact on your success?  It’s true.  When we feel powerless, we close in on ourselves (think clasped hands and hunched shoulders).  On the flip side, when we feel powerful we naturally open up and expand, by pulling our shoulders back and lifting our chest (think “Wonder Woman”).  Studies have shown that when we take that power posture for two minutes, our bodies start producing more testosterone and lower our levels of cortisol.  These hormones are responsible for aggression and stress, respectively.  Higher levels of testosterone can correlate to greater confidence, while lower levels of cortisol can mean higher stress tolerance.  By taking a confident power for just two minutes, even when you don’t feel confident, you can trick your body and brain into feelings of greater power, comfort, and confidence.  So, before your next networking event, channel Wonder Woman for a couple minutes and see how that changes your confidence level. You can learn more about this phenomenon by watching Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk or reading her book, “Presence”.
  • Fake it ‘til you make it. Many years ago, I was struggling with depression and my therapist told me a story I have never forgotten.  It’s the basis of my own “action first, change later” coaching style. The story goes that a criminal wanted to go out and about in society unrecognized, so he put on the mask of saint as a disguise – but he couldn’t be convincing as a saint if he continued his criminal activity, so he had to “pretend” to be a saint.  The longer he wore the mask and the longer he acted as a saint, the more those behaviors became ingrained in him, until one day he couldn’t remove the mask – he had become the saint.  It’s simple, pretend to be more confident and do all the things a confident woman would do long enough, and you will eventually be confident.

Do you struggle with “bragging” about yourself and your business? What do you do to overcome that fear?  Share in the comments!