Are you an introvert? Does the thought of making small talk or "working the room" make you cringe? For people who dread networking, consider these guiding principles and techniques.
Not all of us possess the ability to easily walk up to a stranger and start talking, especially about ourselves or our work. Even if we don't hate networking events, we may still feel inadequate at them.
Yet introverts have the ability to turn their traits supposedly shortcomings into vital skills for building and maintaining mutually beneficial connections.
"In my experience, people who proclaim to hate networking also believe they are not good at it," consultant Devora Zack
writes in her 2010 book Networking for People Who Hate Networking
. "In fact, the reverse is true. You have the raw materials to be a stellar networker."
While extroverts generally are verbal, expansive and social, Zack says in her book, introverts tend to be reflective
. These characteristics lead to three key distinctions:
- Introverts think to talk, while extroverts talk to think;
- Introverts drill deep, while extroverts stretch wide; and
- Introverts energize alone, while extroverts energize with others.
Rather than try to be more like extroverts at networking events, however, introverts should focus on harnessing their natural strengths.
Based on these three characteristics and guiding principles, Zack's field guide provides a set of techniques she refers to as the 3-Ps specially developed for introverts: 1) Pause, 2) Process and 3) Pace.
Introverts Think to Talk.
Introverts require time to process data before properly responding. If you do not have a gift for chatter, focus on what you do have: a predisposition to watch and gather data.
Supporting technique: Pause.
Pausing enables introverts to communicate with clarity and precision. Introverts should dedicate time to plan before networking opportunities to review their strategy and think through responses they might give or questions they might ask.
Introverts Seek Depth.
- Preregister to mentally prepare and ensure a spot at important events;
- Plan your attire so that you look put-together but also feel comfortable;
- Volunteer to help, as networking-haters are more comfortable in a designated, structured role;
- Go with a pal and challenge each other to target others and report back; and
- Clarify what you want to achieve, arrive early and take a moment before you head in.
Introverted networking requires a deeper focus on a smaller set of people. Try to use your introvert talents by combining deep listening skills with well-formed questions.
Supporting technique: Process.
Processing enables introverts who hate or merely tolerate networking to create deep, lasting contacts with less time spent on self-promotion. Their attention to subtle verbal and non-verbal information (such as eye contact), for instance, provides communication cues that allow them to gather a lot of data about others while networking.
Introverts Energize Alone.
- Check out the nametag table early for names you recognize and those of people you want to meet;
- Linger by the food station, an excellent temporary networking space;
- Position yourself to scan the room for people you know and people who seem approachable;
- Talk to staff, as this not only is good form but also gives you something to do;
- Stand in lines (e.g., for food or beverages) for a good alternative to standing around alone;
- Make eye contact to convey interest in others;
- Make yourself approachable by maintaining a positive expression; and
- Note unusual accessories or unique styles of other networkers, as these invite conversation.
Self-reliant introverts generally prefer to replenish their energy alone or with a close companion. Honor this need by creating meaningful, real connections, and then retreating to recharge.
Supporting technique: Pace.
Pacing themselves when networking provides time for introverts to recharge their batteries. Quantity can be an exhausting and inauthentic measurement of success for introverts. Instead, a solid, compact network of reliable contacts is the best-case scenario for the introvert. Fewer people + Less time = Better outcomes for introverts.
- Focus on others by asking thoughtful, genuine questions about them;
- Offer some tidbits about yourself (decide in advance what you are comfortable sharing with others);
- Remind yourself that the room is not focused on you and no one is keeping track of what you are doing;
- Schedule breaks to recharge, whether it's stepping outside for fresh air or checking your messages;
- Peruse collateral at the information table to learn about event hosts and glean conversation ideas;
- Write down new acquaintances' pertinent information on business cards to better recall details;
- Have a strategy for ending a conversation gracefully (e.g., "May I have your card?" or "I must make a call.");
- Know when to split, preferably when you have accomplished your networking goal; and
- Have a departure plan, as you are not at your best when you overstay your capacity to be "on."
- Because introverts often excel at the written word, writing personalized follow-up notes is an opportunity to capitalize on a natural strength; and
- After an encounter, be useful (and authentic) to your new acquaintance by sending an article or link relevant to your conversation to convey that you remember the person and what you talked about.
"Networking is not an isolated situation that takes place at designated times and places. For better or worse, it is an ongoing state," Zack says. "At first glance, this may seem 'for worse' to the average networking-avoider." However, this also means that every encounter is an opportunity. "Each encounter has limitless potential," she emphasizes. "Every place you go and person you meet is a networking experience."
For introverts, a networking event may never be an environment where they thrive. But with the right approach, introverts can find pleasure in conquering the challenge and reaping the benefits of good connections.
Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed and the Underconnected
by Devora Zack
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., July 2010
Networking Made Easy for Introverts
by Devora Zack
The Work Buzz (CareerBuilder.com), Aug. 30, 2010
Networking for Introverts
by Meghan Casserly
Girl Friday Blog (Forbes.com), Sept. 1, 2010
Hate Networking? Here are Some Tips
by Toni Bowers
Career Management Blog (Tech Republic), Oct. 13, 2010