When July rolls around New York, my husband and I can't wait to escape the stifling heat and humidity that often blankets the city. Not just mitigate it by going to a nearby beach, but really leave it behind us. This year, we opted for 10 days in the Swiss Alps.

While I had visions of skipping through green meadows picking wildflowers, in a moment of weakness one day I found myself in snow gear, agreeing to be strapped into a harness to rappel down a crevasse in a glacier, and then climb back up the ice wall with nothing but ice axes and crampons.

Taking that first step off the glacier -- backwards, no less -- down a sheer wall of blue ice, uncertain of what would meet me in the tight, cold space below, was the height of anxiety. Our guide made it look so easy in his demo, but now it was my turn.

With no technique, no idea what to expect, and no trust in the ropes and harness that were supporting me, I froze (no pun intended!).

Sometimes when people approach new networking situations, they encounter the same thing. Without the right technique, a good handle on their expectations, and an overall trust in the process, it can be too unsettling and they find themselves retreating back into their comfort zone.

This could mean hanging out with people they know at an event rather than risk possible rejection of meeting new people -- which I've NEVER seen happen in networking, by the way. Or they could be too afraid to put a spotlight on themselves and hold back asking questions in a public forum when doing so could get them noticed by potential prospects.

When you push yourself with a new experience, you break through old boundaries and allow yourself to move up towards that next level of success. You just need to get a good handle on those three critical elements: technique, expectations and trust.

Technique is the easiest to address, because it can be learned and definitely improves with practice. I still don't have the right technique for digging out my ice axe for each climb without straining every muscle in my back and arms, but I greatly improved between my first and second time, and even into my third time.

I found the same thing with most aspects of networking. I still consider myself somewhat of a shy person, yet now I'm fairly comfortable approaching just about anybody in any situation, introducing myself, and starting a conversation. It was just a matter of developing a specific approach and standard phrases over time that put others (and myself) at ease, and practicing them in real situations as much as possible. Once you've developed a skill, like riding a bike, it's with you forever.

Expectations can get a little thorny to deal with because your mind can play tricks and make you believe that something is harder than it actually is. If you've never done it before or never seen anyone do it, you'll probably think it's quite hard. Then, when you watch others, it starts to look easy and definitely doable.

But just before you go through the experience on your own, you can begin to second guess yourself and feel anxious because your body is about to do something it has no sensory memory of. I absolutely did not want to hang backwards off the glacier that first time, but by the fourth time, I was pushing off against the wall on my descent like an Army Ranger. ; )
The more you network, and especially the more you put yourself in different situations - from one-on-one meetings to small networking groups to mega conferences - the less you have to worry about what's going on internally, and the more you can focus on having fun in the moment and maximizing the experience.

Trust is the most important element to have, but perhaps the hardest one to grasp both mentally and physically because you're putting faith in something you don't completely control. How could I know that the rope system, carabiners, and ice screws my guide had set up could hold my weight? I didn't. I had to trust that he's checked everything to his satisfaction, that he's done this many, many times over, and though he might take risks with his own life, he would never put his clients in jeopardy.

If you want to speed up learning, you can't figure everything out yourself. You have to learn from others and put trust in their experience and expertise. If they walk you through the steps of a process they've done a million times before, that's probably a pretty good starting point. Don't get so caught up in arguing about what you think will or won't work that you never take a step. Nothing happens without action. You can always adjust and add your own flourishes once you feel your way through your own experience.

So my key takeaways from my first ice climbing experience is how succeeding at one challenge motivates you to keep trying new ones, and how important it is to engage experts to help speed up my learning curve and get me back to safety.

If you're facing a new challenge, whether it's tripling your business, transitioning your career, or diving into your first big networking event, be willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone, and invest in the support you need to help you with technique, expectations and trust to ensure a successful outcome (and to also have fun in the process!).

© 2003-2007 Liz Lynch

Author's Bio: 

Liz Lynch is a business networking expert whose products, programs and seminars help entrepreneurs and business professionals get clients, build their business, and reach their goals through networking. If you're ready to start networking smarter, get your free networking tips now at www.NetworkingExcellence.com