by Nancy Solari
Networking is an essential process for anyone looking to build connections, yet this activity may be especially daunting in the eyes of someone with a disability. Perhaps you are nervous about standing out in a crowd or being seen as different from the rest of your competitors or potential business partners. Even though you may be apprehensive about meeting new people given your disadvantages, there are several ways your limitations put you at an advantage. Here are three out of the box ways to use your disability as a strength while networking.
Perhaps you have a physical limitation which requires you to use a wheelchair or enlist a caregiver to undergo daily tasks. Maybe you are visually impaired and rely on your other senses to guide you. The patience you developed in managing the challenges of living with a disability translates into the rhythm of networking. For example, you may be nervous about needing to analyze social cues despite your inability to hear. Utilizing patience will serve you well in reading the flow of the room in search of the right time to chime in.
It is possible that as a person who uses a mobility scooter, you may be dreading the chance that there will not be enough space for you amongst the crowded tables. In this case, you may rely on patience by sitting at an empty table and waiting for your own group to form. Your kindness and unique personality are the best conversation starters! Above all else, remember that you can take your power back. When you choose to be patient with yourself, and with others, you allow the right opportunities in life to come your way.
Perhaps you live with anxiety and devised your own personal coping techniques. Maybe you cannot hear and learned to guide yourself through everyday conversations by reading body language. Since you have the creative ability to handle these various situations, you will be able to do the same in social settings. During the networking process, remind yourself that the best ways to catch someone’s eye are often unexpected. Consider some of your own original methods of beginning a discussion. Perhaps you are a blind person and fear the awkwardness of someone offering to shake their hand you cannot see. Your openness in stating your disability immediately humbles the conversation and allows for a genuine connection to proceed. Or if you bring your service dog along, you might just gain the attention of all the animal-lovers in the room.
It may be that you are nervous about being able to find space in the crowded venue. You may fall back on the humor in the truth that you’ve brought your own seat, your trusty wheelchair. Reinventing the way in which you communicate will make you more memorable in the eyes of those you meet. Rather than chatting about the weather like every other participant, creativity in the networking environment is all about being your unique self.
A networking environment is a great opportunity to thrive while still being authentic to yourself. There are several positive qualities that you bring to the table by choosing to be open about your disability. It displays self-acceptance to be comfortable enough to have a conversation regarding these experiences and leaves a lasting impression on those you interact with. By having the bravery to speak on your disability, you exhibit a charisma that sets you apart from others. When you choose to be vulnerable, you influence those around you to do the same. However, it can be difficult to be transparent with this side of you. If this idea frightens you, remember that you have accomplished so much despite your limitation. You have been gifted with many admirable characteristics, and by being open about your experience, people will be able to connect with you in a more meaningful way.
Although living with a disability presents many challenges, especially the ones in the world of networking, there are a variety of ways that you can turn this aspect of yourself into a strength. Keep in mind that patience is a virtue and it will serve you well as you begin to forge new connections. Allow your creativity to shine in the way that you connect with people by utilizing unique conversation starters. Remind yourself that by choosing to be open with others, those you meet will appreciate all that you have achieved, and you may even motivate them to do the same. Above all else, remember that your disability does not limit your potential. You possess unlimited talents that deserve to be implemented when networking to maximize your potential. Use your gifts to the fullest and show those around you how incredible you are with these three out of the box ways to use your disability as a strength.
Nancy Solari is an accomplished CEO, Business/Life Coach, writer, and motivational speaker. As host of the national radio show Living Full Out with Nancy Solari, she shares her tools for success with audiences and organizations all around the country.