How to Develop and Maintain Healthy Networking Strategies

Oar Health Editorial Team


Nov 02, 2023

3 people with name tags chatting at a business networking event, holding and drinking coffee.

Successful networking is often a key to business success. Meeting and building relationships with potential investors, customers, employees, and hiring managers can take your business or career to the next level.

“Not only can networking get you and your business in the door, it can also legitimize it,” writes Brad True in an article for The Cannon (1). “The more name recognition both you and your brand build up, the more likely you are to earn certain referrals and consideration when it comes to potential new opportunities, or even get the edge over another competitor.”

Whether you are evaluating starting a business (especially if you are starting a business when you have mental health challenges) with all the networking it requires, going to a prearranged networking event, a seminar, or even a dinner with friends of friends, you’ll want to be prepared with a set of healthy networking strategies. If you’re new to business networking, you may be curious about how professional outings can affect your health and how you can successfully manage any negative effects.

What Are the Health Risks in Professional Networking?

There are a few risks associated with networking, just like any social outing. You’ll want to actively avoid situations that could harm your mental and physical health. Alcohol consumption is one important factor to consider.

People typically go into networking events with the best intentions, but it’s easy to slip into unhealthy behaviors around drinking if you’re not mindful of them. Social and professional drinking can be a slippery slope. Alcohol won't be at every networking event, but it will often be a factor. 

Many people believe that an alcoholic drink can help relieve their social anxiety and make them more comfortable meeting new people. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has published research on this topic that is salient for two reasons (2). First, research does not clearly support the idea that alcohol relieves social anxiety. In fact, based on how alcohol affects the brain and body, it could worsen anxiety.

Second, there’s a very high co-occurrence of social anxiety and alcohol use disorder (AUD): 20% of people diagnosed with social anxiety also report an AUD diagnosis. Perhaps even more concerning is a study published in BMC Public Health of nearly 2,000 adults in social situations, including professional networking events (3). Researchers found  that people judge their own level of intoxication based on the level of intoxication of people of the same gender in their immediate vicinity. 

This led to a consistent underestimation of their level of inebriation — which in a professional networking situation can be detrimental to both your health and professional goals. Alcohol affects your brain. It can cause you to lose your inhibitions, impair your thinking skills, and more. If you exhibit these behaviors at a networking event, it can influence how people view your professional skills. 

Plus, if you go past your limit at every event you attend, alcohol can negatively affect the relationships you are trying to make. A potential contact may not want to work with you if they’re uncomfortable with your drinking. Heavy drinking can also harm your health. Long-term heavy alcohol use is strongly correlated with a number of health conditions, including heart disease, a weakened immune system, and cancer. 

While it may be OK to drink socially and have one beverage during an event, it’s important to be mindful of your overall schedule, too. Over time, constant late-night events can lead to poor sleeping habits. If you don’t get the seven to nine hours of sleep you need each night, your immune system could become compromised, and you won’t be clear-headed enough to properly run your business or succeed with others.

“Sleep is critical if you want to effectively lead your business,” says Bedros Keuilian, CEO and founder of Fit Body Boot Camp (4). “You need a clear head in order to negotiate big-money deals, effectively communicate with your team and inspire others through the social media content you produce.”

What Are Healthy Networking Strategies?

A healthy networking strategy starts with planning. Knowing the time, place, and agenda of an event gives you the knowledge to make a plan. You can plan how much you’ll drink and whether to eat a healthy meal before or after the event. You can also make sure you’ll allow enough time to get a good night’s sleep after.

You can even plan a set of talking points, or create a list of ice-breaker questions, like “How did your first job help you get where you are?” so you can learn a bit about the other person before getting down to business.

Tips for Making Healthy Choices at Social Events

Remember, you are in control of your own body, and you also have ownership of how you behave and treat yourself during networking events. Set yourself up for success by having a plan ahead of time and bringing the items you need to ensure you stay healthy.

For instance, eating a nutritious meal or snack before an event relieves the pressure you may feel about eating something while you’re out.  

As far as alcohol is concerned during networking events, focus on moderate drinking and not getting past the point of inebriation. If you have historically struggled to manage your drinking, you might consider talking to a doctor about medication which limits cravings for alcohol.

And if you've historically been pretty successful managing your alcohol intake, there are a few strategies that may make it even easier. You can ask for a nonalcoholic beer or sparkling water with ice and lime, or choose a low-alcohol option. For instance, beer ranges from 2.5% alcohol to as much as 25% alcohol (though most beers in the United States are between 3 and 10%). 

Drink menus in many U.S. states list the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage, and it is generally printed on a beer’s label. Part of your preparation can be knowing what you’ll drink or which options will be better for you.

Another strategy you can incorporate is setting personal and professional boundaries while at events. You can set physical boundaries, like offering handshakes over hugs, or set time boundaries, such as avoiding any networking events past 10 p.m. 

It’s a good idea to set emotional boundaries as well. Keep it professional. Avoid gossip, and instead simply talk about why you are excited to meet this new person and how you can help one another professionally.

Be sure to respect other people’s boundaries, too. For example, some people may not want to shake hands.

It’s also important to practice good hygiene while at networking events.Make it a point to wash your hands before and after eating and after using the bathroom, especially if you plan to make physical contact with others. 

Structured Networking

Another option for healthy networking is to look for structured networking events. In these events,  the structure of the event can facilitate more meaningful connections. Some of these events group participants by area of interest, giving everyone a chance to make a personal introduction. 

You should always be aware of your environment, even during structured events. If alcohol is triggering for you, it might be wise to avoid meetings that are held in bars, or that require you to buy an alcoholic beverage. 

If you feel uncomfortable at an event, you can politely excuse yourself. Then look for a different event that will suit you better. Your health matters more than networking, and the right event or group is out there for you.

If you have difficulty managing your alcohol intake, especially in social situations, look into getting help from a counselor in your area. You can also take an assessment to find the best way to limit or quit drinking altogether

The Importance of Practicing Healthy Networking Techniques

Not only will this guide help you avoid an unhealthy networking experience, but it can also help you excel at your next event so you can reap the benefits that can come from a successful connection. 

Networking isn't just for those starting their own businesses. It can also help you find a position, harness your strengths, and start down a career path toward new rewards. Like any social situation, there can be some challenges associated with networking events, but these are typically positive experiences for many people. 

Networking events are a chance to let yourself shine as an individual and meet the people who may help shape your future. Practicing healthy boundaries and behaviors at these events will help you make a great impression. 

Read more articles about Consequences Of Alcohol Use

About The Author

Oar is a telemedicine platform that makes science-backed, medication-assisted addiction treatment approachable and accessible for millions of consumers who feel excluded by the current treatment landscape and who may have a wide range of goals, from moderation to abstinence.

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