As more offices reopen, you may have been inundated with requests to network or "just grab coffee."
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Jenny Taitz, an assistant clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of California-Los Angeles, and Greg McKeown, a New York Times bestselling author and founder of the Essentialism Academy, explain how to navigate these requests—and focus on your own priorities while still maintaining your relationships.
1. Pinpoint what's most important to you
Instead of automatically scheduling a meeting when you receive an invite, Taitz and McKeown suggest you first consider what feels essential, both in the present moment and beyond.
As more people return to the office, Taitz and McKeown recommend taking time to think about the routine you want to establish. Consider what you miss the most from before the pandemic and whether you want to change anything going forward.
2. Map out what you want for your life—not just for the present moment
To get to the heart of what you want for yourself, Taitz and McKeown ask you to consider how you would spend your time if you had one year left to live. Think about the different aspects of your life—your health, family, career, and more—and set specific goals for each category.
Then, think about the values you want to have in your work life, and how much time you can realistically devote to work-related events without sacrificing other important aspects of your life.
Not only should you consider the amount of time involved, but you should also think about how meaningful or productive the socializing is for you. For instance, you may find that having more than one work dinner a week prevents you from spending time with loved ones or working on something you're passionate about.
If you don't "clear space for what is most essential, [your] aspirations will take a back seat to [your] in-boxes," Taitz and McKeown write.
3. Consider whether social anxiety is holding you back
As you plan your social engagements, Taitz and McKeown write that you should consider whether social anxiety is holding you back.
It is understandable to feel socially awkward at times, but if you feel anxious making plans or are acutely self-conscious with others, Taitz and McKeown recommend taking time to address your social worries, potentially approaching them with cognitive behavioral therapy.
4. Be fully engaged in the situations you do say 'yes' to
According to Taitz and McKeown, you should focus on the person you're with instead of thinking about how you come across, which can be especially challenging if you have social anxiety.
On the other hand, if you just find socializing to be exhausting, you could try letting your values—instead of your comfort zone—dictate your behavior. Taitz and McKeown reference an American Psychological Association study on happiness that asked participants to act reserved one week, and then outgoing the next. The researchers found that participants who acted outgoing experienced more positive emotions and felt more connected to others, regardless of whether they were truly extroverted.
5. 'Avoid avoiding'
Once you understand your values and what motivates you emotionally, Taitz and McKeown recommend that you "avoid avoiding." This means you should share your limits when it comes to socializing or networking requests instead of insincerely saying "yes," or continually delaying plans that you're not interested in.
To help you respond to these requests, Taitz and McKeown suggest creating a thoughtful template email that you can adjust depending on the specific situation. Some tips for crafting your template and responses include:
- Be kind, since it may have taken the other person courage to reach out to you;
- Don't make it seem like you are declining just because you're busy;
- Make the other person feel seen by validating their feelings;
- Honestly express your preferences about how to connect (phone call vs in-person meeting); and
- Offer something pleasant as an alternative, such as a better time to meet or simple well-wishes.
In addition, Taitz and McKeown say that it is fine to ignore requests that may be unreasonable based on your relationship to the sender.
6. Find better solutions
Finally, Taitz and McKeown recommend findings ways to connect that require less of your energy. For example, if you prefer talking on the phone, you can group your catch-up sessions with colleagues during an afternoon every two weeks. When you give someone your full attention, you'll be able to engage more genuinely than when you are multitasking.
These actions are not about "being self-centered, but about navigating requests compassionately," Taitz and McKeown write. Doing so will help you focus on what you value most and communicate with others kindly and sincerely. (Taitz/McKeown, Harvard Business Review, 7/21)