In a world that values small talk and outgoing charm, extroverts seem to rule the world of networking. Introverts can feel overlooked and undervalued. However, networking is not just for extroverts. Introverts can network too, and arguably, do it better than extroverts! They call it connecting.
Let’s start by defining networking. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines it as “a system of trying to meet and talk to other people who may be useful to you in your work.” Meet and talk. What is notably missing from this definition is loud events, small talk and crowds. It also does not say how many people constitute a network. Sometimes less is more. The quality of your network is determined by the strength of the connection, not by the number of people.
The only qualifier for a business connection is that they need to be useful to you in your work. Ouch. Does that mean you have to be manipulative and inauthentic? No!
Introverts are especially sensitive to being manipulated and have no tolerance for fakes. The “sleazy” approach appalls them, which is why introverts get freaked out at the very mention of networking. Authenticity is one of an introvert’s highest values. It is also their strongest asset in the world of networking. When you bring your real self to the world of networking, you bring fresh air and grace
Think about people who you have met in the past who impacted your career, or whose career you impacted in some way. How did you meet? Did you work together? Sit beside each other at a conference? Share a “moment” in a mutually difficult situation? Take a class? Whatever it was, they became part of your network. You liked or respected each other and kept in touch. Or lost touch. The point is: you met. I met an amazing mentor and friend when we literally bumped into each other escaping from a networking exercise. Both introverts.
Relax your face and remember to smile. It is amazing how this simple fix can change your life.
One of the things introverts do well is listen. So listen! Ask follow-up questions. Listen more. People will be impressed by how well you converse when they do all the talking!
Wear or carry something interesting or colourful that you have a story about. It acts like a green light at an intersection. A conversation is sparked and you are on your way to a new connection.
Approach people who look even more shy than you are. They will be grateful! Conversation starters that succeed begin with a shared experience, something that is going on in the environment: a barista with flair, how long you have been waiting, their cool shoes, the cost of organic eggs, children playing, a song playing in background.
Being prepared is another of your strengths so keep some tried and true icebreaker ideas in your toolbox - they will be ready when the opportunity arises.
You are good at picking up on the energy around you. If it feels like a waste of time, don’t torture yourself –leave.
Manage your anxiety in whatever way works best for you. Stay hydrated and nourished before important events. Avoid or limit alcohol intake.
Building your network is not nearly as important as maintaining your existing network. This is where the first word in the definition comes in: a system is what makes networking work. This means there is a set of principles and methods involved.
Sandie convinced her mother at the age of two that a set of books would make her much happier than a tricycle. Then came diaries, school projects and heartfelt poetry - a writer was born. Reading and writing have been constant and faithful lovers ever since. This blog is an attempt to release some of the fleeting thoughts and crazy ideas in a place that may become another form of diary, but this time, one that talks back! Would love to hear from anyone who is inspired to rebut, dig further, validate or in any way comment on what has been written.