May 16, 2012

Do you have an uninterested face?

I attended a networking event last week that introduced me to a couple of new "networking no-nos."

Most people are courteous, friendly, and truly interested in what others have to say at a networking event. After all, they want to 1) meet new people and 2) make a good impression on those new people, all in the name of gaining new clients and customers.

But some networkers are missing this critical piece of the puzzle. And I don't think they realize what they're doing (or not doing). These people don't know how to make an interested face.

What's an interested face? Think about the last time you talked to someone who made you feel like they were hanging on every word, really hearing you and being present for you.

They nodded. They smiled. They raised their eyebrows. They made various facial expressions that told you they were paying attention. Maybe they were faking their interest, but if they were good at it, you'd never know.

The person who doesn't know how to do an interested face just stares blankly when you talk. They give no indication that they even hear what you're saying, beyond making eye contact. They don't respond to humor, they don't respond to variations in tone of voice or volume. They don't respond to excitement or drama. They don't nod or smile. They don't say "uh-huh."

They have no expression, no response, and it's unnerving.

I met two people at last week's event who did this. One did it while she and I were talking. The other did it while I was introducing her to someone else and telling her all kinds of fascinating and funny things about the other woman.

Really? No expression? Yep. I'm not sure they know they're doing it, and that's why I'm telling you this right now: Cultivate an interested face!

Nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. You are communicating something with your face, like it or not, all the time. So be aware of what your face is doing when you are listening to another person. This is also relevant when you're in front of an audience. When a participant asks a question, your face should be open and interested. You may not like the question, but you still have to give the audience permission to ask, and you do that through your facial expression.

The second thing that I want to talk about is something that hasn't happened to me, but was shared by a friend. He told me how much he hates it when people text or do other things with their phone while talking to him during networking events. I was actually shocked to hear this, that a stranger would text during an introductory conversation, but I don't know why I'm shocked. After all, not everyone has stellar social skills, and texting while talking is just another way of avoiding connecting with another person.

My rule about using my phone while talking to other people: Use my phone if it's relevant to the conversation, or if I need to look at the time. For example, if I want to write down something they're telling me, or look up a link for them online, I will tell them "I'm going to look that up for you right now," so they know why I'm getting out my phone. If I need to look at the time, I tell them that. And last, if I'm expecting an important message, I will tell them up front that if my phone buzzes, I need to take it. Then, if I get the message, I excuse myself from the conversation.

Otherwise, the phone stays in my purse while I'm talking to another person. Talk about making someone feel unimportant!

What other networking no-nos have you experienced? Share in the comments!

Read this post for more on what not to do while neworking. For more on what TO do, read:

My three rules of networking

Five favorite networking tips

Networking: Break into a conversation

Networking: Exit a conversation

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