How do people with neurodiverse conditions cope with networking?

There used to be a joke that you know when an introvert is networking because they look at your shoes instead of their own.  Introversion isn’t a neurodiverse/neurodivergent condition which typically includes ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Tourette syndrome but I mention it because so many people find networking challenging that being aware of this helps us find ways to give more people the chance to connect and build great relationships.

Nathan Whitbread is a Neurodivergent Coach and offers some great insights into the challenges people with neurodiverse conditions face when networking. I think they’re challenges that a great many of us face and his ideas can be applied equally to neurotypical people. See what you think: 

Walking into a room full of strangers that you are supposed to be interacting with can be incredibly daunting. Add on top of this anxiety around who you are and how you communicate and suddenly there is a bit of a recipe for potential problems. Welcome to neurodiversity and networking.

As a neurodivergent person, I have always found networking a little bit challenging as it seems everyone else knows exactly what they are doing. So here are some things that I feel can help make what is a tricky area into something far more manageable and something you can achieve at.

Being ready to talk

The best spontaneous conversations are well practised!

This may sound like a completely bizarre statement, but the truth is if you want to be spontaneous and have something to say you need to practice. This could be as simple as practising engaging with strangers in conversation or just being ready to start more conversations with your friends about topics that you think they may be interested in.

Asking questions that make connections

With networking the key thing is finding out what the other person wants, not telling them what you want. I would encourage you to start conversations by asking questions about how you can help. For example, you might want to ask:

  • why someone is there?
  • or what challenges they are experiencing, that you could help with?

Telling real punchy stories

Think about your own stories, the things you have done, the people you have met and how they can be relevant to the people you are talking to now. No one can resist a story, especially when they help them solve problems. When telling stories it’s important that they are punchy and to the point and that while you’re telling them you are seeking feedback to make sure they are relevant to the person you’re talking to. (if their eyes glaze over or their face changes make sure you ask them if this is useful – if in doubt ask!)

For example, you might have a story about a recent client (you do not have to use the client’s name) or a problem that you solved as part of your work.

I would always recommend using stories as they illustrate not only the benefits and strengths that you can bring, but they also bring you alive as a person.

Being ok with who you are

Believe it or not, you are the very best person at being you, and there is no one else quite like you. Do not try and be someone else, be yourself that’s why people want to get to know you. It is important to celebrate who you are as well in terms of your attitude towards yourself. I can assure you that you have value, things to offer, you do things other people cannot do and you are the very best at being you. – Be yourself!

It takes a village to successfully network

What I mean by this is that contacts you already have will provide you with information that allows you to connect with others. This will help you engage in conversations and communicate better with new connections. No person is an island, utilise people you know, learn from them, and ask for feedback.

Drive, the Partnership Network has been this place for me.

What can hold you back

Mindset is key, when getting involved in networking start with what you want to achieve then ask others what they want and see if there is space to build something. People never stop talking about what they need. If you can tap into that you will network effectively because you will be able to help them find solutions for their problems.

Do not be the limit to your network

Research shows that we love to talk to people like us but unfortunately there is only a subset of the human population that are anything like us. If you are looking to network the chances are your skills and experience are going to be more useful to people that are nothing like you. Don’t be afraid because people are different they still breathe and have a pulse just like you.

Be proactive

You are not an impostor you have every right to share what you are doing and mix with others to find common ground. You need to accept no one knows what you know the way you know it, and no one will ever know it unless you interact and have real conversations with them. Also do not be afraid to ask for help there are a lot of people out there in a similar position who want to help and see you succeed.

Find allies and champions

Allies and champions are vital especially if you have got questions about things like, what is the value you bring?

These people will often know you best and can help you cement this value. They will also be the people that open doors for you and invite you to new places, and you will be able to support them. This is not an awkward thing to do, it just starts with a conversation

So do not be afraid to ask!

What do you think?

Do Nathan’s tips apply to you? Do we all have our own quirks and insecurities around networking? What’s your favourite tip?

If you would like some help please get in touch with Nathan.

This post was originally published on The Neurodivergent Coach blog.