If you are an introvert, chances are you don’t like networking.
In fact, you probably despise it.
Rather have a root canal.
Avoid it like the plague.
Think it’s a four-letter word.
But networking doesn’t have to be so awful. It doesn’t have to be so dang hard. You could actually learn to <gasp> enjoy it!
Just last week, I coached a couple of professionals who told me this is one of their biggest challenges – networking while introverted. And they are not unique: I hear this all the time.
So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you, too.
First, let’s talk about your mindset – it’s probably on the wrong track, as most people’s is, with regards to networking. And once you change that, there are many actionable, doable strategies and techniques that you can begin to implement immediately to get you started networking in an introvert-friendly, easier way.
Get the right mindset first
The problem for most folks, not just introverts, is that they think networking is icky and dirty because of the people who do it in a transactional, give-me-give-me-give-me kind of way. They are on the hunt for a one-night-stand equivalent and they leave us with a bad taste in our mouth and in search of the hand sanitizer.
But I’ve described it previously on this blog: the right kind of mindset allows you to network with integrity and your dignity intact.
You’ve gotta shift your mindset and definition: networking means building and maintaining long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships, so being dubious and transactional can never qualify as real networking. It’s just smarmy – who’s gonna want to stay in a long-term relationship with someone who acts like that when you first meet?
Another mindset shift that can be immensely freeing is to realize the big secret of networking: It’s pretty awkward for everyone. So stop feeling so self-conscious about how awkward you might feel about networking and just be open and be yourself. Shift into a mode of other-focus (instead of directing all your focus inwardly, usually with that self-judging inner voice) and generosity (better to give than to take when you want to create a long-term friendship).
Finally, don’t think of networking as being synonymous with cocktail-holding, grip-n-grin “networking events”. When you change your definition, it infinitely expands what counts as networking – almost any communication activity can serve as networking, especially when performed mindfully, intentionally with relationship building in mind.
7 introvert-friendly networking strategies and techniques
Okay, now that you’ve shifted your mindset about networking first, you are ready to consider some of the ideas below for specific techniques that work particularly well when you’re an introvert who wants to network but feels apprehensive. Of course, they’re great for everyone.
Preparation can make a huge difference. In advance of going somewhere where you might get to meet new people or reconnect with old acquaintances and friends, take a few moments to prepare. You can come up with a few questions that you could use to spark or expand a conversation. Also, you could read or listen to something that helps you come with a point of view on a common topic of interest and bring some ‘nuggets of wisdom’. Having some conversation ‘tinder’ in your proverbial ‘back pocket’ will give you something to talk about, add value with, and help you avoid getting stumped for words or stuck with shallow small talk, which I know you don’t like.
Leverage your listening strength. Many introverts are great listeners. Introverts often feel much more comfortable in the mode of listening rather than talking. And introverts also often want to avoid having the conversation focus be solely on them. So be a great conversationalist via offering great listening – it will differentiate you from all the ‘talky’ folks. It will cause people to enjoy talking with you, remember you fondly, and want to talk with you again. Introverts might find it more comfortable to leverage curiosity and listening skills to initiate deeper one-on-one conversations with people, too, which they often prefer to shallow ones. Your conversation partners will enjoy your interested focus on them and getting to talk about themselves. But then, they may feel a need to reciprocate and ask you about yourself, by which time you might feel more warned up and ready to talk about yourself a bit more and come across as more personable in the conversation.
Giving and gratitude can be an easy way to add value quietly. Simple things like saying thank you, writing a personal thank you card, or even sending a quick gratitude email can brighten someone’s day. And given our definition of networking is to build and maintain relationships, small acts of giving gratitude, meaningful gifts, insights or articles, or help and support can be a way to ‘make deposits’ into existing and new connections and keep the flame alive in your networking relationships. You can easily build relationships by focusing on being a giver.
Have to attend a networking event or social gathering? Bring a networking buddy. Even though you can do most of your networking outside of events and not in crowded settings, sometimes it’s inevitable and behooves you to go to such a gathering. If that’s the case, try to make a plan to go with someone you know. There are a couple of ways to leverage this strategy: First, you could fortify each other’s courage to venture into conversations if you set a goal that you’ll go have 2-3 conversations and meet back up once XX minutes have elapsed to debrief and decompress. Or, do what my colleague Steve does: he brings along an extroverted friend along as your ‘hook’. She or he will meet new people readily and easily and then pull you into their conversations like a fishing hook pulls on the string, naturally providing a bridge and an ‘in’ for you to get into conversations. Another tip someone shared with me recently to help himself get over his anxiety at networking events is that he sets a goal for meeting a small number of new people – think one or two. It’s super low-effort, very doable, and totally achievable! Low stress makes you a better networker, so set this bar low and enjoy yourself with no pressure or performance anxiety.
[EDIT: But beware of hanging out with your buddy all evening... that defeats the point and your buddy becomes your crutch! Special shout-out to my friend Lori Saitz of The Quiet Girls for reminding me to make this point.]
Go deep and narrow, and modulate the duration of your networking meet-ups. Instead of crowds and groups, schedule one-on-one conversations with people you meet or want to catch up with to maintain your relationship, which can be held either in-person or remotely. You can go deeper in a one-on-one conversation, which can often be more comfortable, interesting, and satisfying for introverts than small-talk. You can meet in person at a coffee shop or go for a walk together, for example. Or you can meet virtually on video (like Skype, Google Hangout, FaceTime, Zoom, etc.) or on the phone. And you can decide how long to allot for these conversations – they can be a quick coffee meeting (you could even have a ‘virtual coffee’ with each of you enjoying your beverage in different locations over video/by phone). You could spend 15 minutes just catching up and that’s it, or it can be 30, 45, 60 minutes or beyond – whatever floats your boat!
Do five minute favors. Adam Rifkin, known as the most networked man in Silicon Valley, has described one of his tricks which I think is very introvert-friendly and a bit related to Technique 3 above: every day he makes it a habit to do a favor or a kindness for someone in his network that only takes about five minutes of his time. (And when you try it, you you could do once a week, or once a month, if you want to take it easy or start with baby-steps – just start!) That could mean simply sending a “hey, what’s up” touch-base email or text message, or an interesting article, or even introducing two people who you know but don’t know each other and should. (But remember to make it a double-opt-in intro.) It’s kind of like brushing teeth: building a small, regular networking habit takes a little effort and dedicated persistence to create networking habits that are like brushing teeth – something that doesn’t take a lot of time but has a compounding value.
Volunteering is a low-pressure, high-yield way to network we often forget. You will hardly feel like you’re networking but if you’re mindful about it, it can yield tremendous relationship-building benefits. Network with people while volunteering for a local chapter of your professional association, or for a local charity or community organization you like, or at a special event, helping with some aspect of its operation. It allows you to shine in your work-style strengths (maybe show how hard-working you are, or showcase your problem-solving skills, for example) while working side by side with or serving people with whom you can strike new friendships. In the natural course of conversations with them as you work (which won't seem like your typical "networking-oriented" conversations), they will get to know you, learn about your interests, and will probably feel naturally interested in staying in touch. I have personally found this to work and have seen many others succeed with this strategy. It's more indirect but has zero of the "ick-factor" many associate with networking.
I’ve shared seven different strategies and techniques with you, and I’m positive that at least one or two strike you as something you could try or leverage more frequently and effectively for the purpose of networking, the kind that means building and maintaining mutually-beneficial, long-term relationships.
I’d love to have you chime in below in the comments to say which one you plan to try, or if you’ve already implemented one or more, share your progress and results!
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