Networking skills are not the exclusive property of extroverts. Introverts have them, too.
Not the belle or beau of the ball? Don’t do well in groups? Are you kind of shy or just hate playing the networking game? You can still be a great networker. The best part is, you don’t have to and shouldn’t change you.
You do have to play by the rules. Networking is a balancing act; give and take. It’s not just about sales or prospecting. Although these can happen. You can also use it for finding friends, jobs, fun places to go or avoid, and a million other things. Think about it as a combination of a “net” which gathers things in and keeps things out and a lot of hard “work”. Believe me, it doesn’t come easy to extroverts either although it may seem that way.
How Introverts can use their strengths
But you can play to your strengths and get great rewards. What are those? Most introverts I have known are great gathers of information and deep thinkers. When I did a session on Networking for Introverts at SXSW two years ago, I first wondered if anyone would show up. They did and all those introverts made me a true believer in their abilities. This depth means introverts have a lot to give. Most are good observers, intuitive, with great analysis skills. Hard work and thoroughness is central to how they operate. I recommend to every extrovert, that they network with at least one introvert.
Introverts: don’t change. Use your abilities.
If you are an introvert, here are three abilities you already have that will make you a successful networker and a valuable member of anyone’s network. They are things you can capitalize on because your energy is focused on concepts and ideas. These are (or should be) highly prized by extroverts.
Number 1: Use your powers of observation and your inquiring mind to collect information that an extrovert would find valuable.
Help us do the work. We’re not lazy but we do put our focus elsewhere usually.
We want to know about people and what’s going on because we want to always be in the know ourselves so we can share that with our network of people, We want to know enough about the “how” of things that we don’t appear unprepared or stupid. That doesn’t mean that a good, extroverted networker should steal your thunder and expertise. It does mean that generally, we like to learn. Help us and we’ll help you.
Number 2: Use your analysis skills to listen, read, and prepare for a meeting where your goal is networking.
At that meeting, share your news with the right people who need or want to know this. Not everyone will be open to this, but some will. Watch for them. Also include “Negative Networking” information in what you share. This is not gossip but does provide warnings about potential problems. These can range from things like places to avoid because of bad food or service to issues related to functionality of a product or even integrity of a firm. Extroverts, like everyone else, don’t like to make mistakes or give bad information to their network. That makes them less valuable in their own eyes and others.
Use social media and face-to-face in a way that is right for you. Be a lurker if you have to but then share what you learned. You may not be into Twitter but maybe you can be a commenter on other people’s blog posts. If you add value and seem interested and interesting, others will be interested in you. There are also online communities that post questions. If you can answer them, you will be someone’s hero or heroine.
Sometimes I think that social media was specifically designed by and for introverts. You get to share information to many people and you don’t have to wait for them to acknowledge your presence. This is a common complaint my introvert friends have about us extroverts, we seem to close ranks and it’s hard to get us to notice the introverts on the fringe of the conversation circle.
Be selective on where you go – there are always many ways to connect. Even if you hear that this is the place to be, it may not be the place for you. Do your homework and find out if the group tends to be open or cliqueish. Don’t go and put yourself in that situation unless you can benefit from it. There are always other events and opportunities.
I once made a calendar of all the networking activities that I could attend in Austin, Texas. I could have found something at all times of the day and evening that would have been relevant. Good extrovert networkers choose what to attend and so should you. The good news is you will probably see them again and again at events you attend. Even if you haven’t met them yet, you already have something in common. Networking is about connections and each one has value. Some more, some less. At least you can commiserate with us about some of the not so good meetings. Misery does love company at least from time to time.
If it’s a meeting you have to attend, your job is to collect information to give back to those who do value you. These people may or may not be there themselves. Be the organized observer and analyzer. Don’t worry about the others. Don’t worry about getting noticed and appreciated. If it works out that way great. At meetings where you feel out of place and are not welcomed, you aren’t going to change their opinion by trying to become an insider.
Be prepared before you go to the meeting. Do your homework on the subject to help you get the most out of it. I feel sure you will do this anyway but it has a big networking payoff. Equally important, see who will be at the meeting. Have a plan to find them. Approach them when they are by themselves. There are times when every extrovert is solitary. It may be a fleeting moment. Watch for it and react. Extroverts don’t like to be alone for long.
Number 3: Use your intuitiveness.
Find an extrovert who is open and receptive of the information and analysis you bring. You do a lot of the hard work that they need. This makes you as valuable to them as they can be to you. They open doors for you; you open windows for them.
Finally, everyone is an introvert from time to time. Some may just hide it better.
If it seems like I am being disrespectful of extroverts, I am not. Our focus is outwards towards people and things. I just recognize that we need a little help from our introvert friends to be our best.
There’s a good article about extroverts and introverts from changingminds.org. Check it out at: http://changingminds.org/explanations/preferences/extravert_introvert.htm
What else can you add about introverts and extroverts?
Here’s to your success!