Month: April 2010

Introverts’ natural strengths in networking – part I

I talk with a LOT of people about their career. Getting promoted, finding new jobs, developing their executive presence and so on. A success factor in all of these areas is the ability to network. Already some of you are recoiling. Specifically, those of you who label yourself introverts. I know, truly I do – the idea of walking into a room of people you don’t know and finding someone to talk with makes you very, very uncomfortable. You may even wear this as a badge of honor, as in: “Eww, I hate networking!” *emphasis on networking as if it’s a dirty word*

But what if I asked you – do you like people? Most of you would say “yes”. However, if you are an introvert you can most likely be described as selectively social, in that you like to develop deeper relationships with fewer number of people than an extrovert would.

Consider this: there are attributes common to introverts that can actually help them network effectively.

1. Introverts are often very observant

2. Introverts often like to listen

3. Introverts value connecting with people on a deeper level and need to feel there is a shared purpose to value the relationship

4. Introverts often are sensitive to/don’t like to make others uncomfortable

If these things are true for you, you may actually enjoy networking a bit, once you’ve learned the basic mechanics and how to leverage your strengths. The most important mechanics (and which may trip you up and/or terrify you) are entering a leaving a conversation. But first, getting your attitude right is important. It is imperative that you approach networking from the perspective that:

1. It may be mutually beneficial. You are not just asking or taking, you are giving too. You have more to offer than you think.

2. It is your responsibility to carry your share of the load. This means initiating conversation. If you make the other person do all the initiating, you are making them do the lion’s share of the work. And that’s not very gracious, is it?

3. Being nervous is about you, not them. I don’t remember where I heard this gem, but I absolutely love it and it has helped me tremendously over the years. Focusing on being nervous puts the emphasis on how you are feeling, not on how they are feeling. Magically, if you focus on them and putting them at ease, you will find yourself more at ease.

Okay, back to the mechanics. To enter a conversation:

1. Identify someone who is standing or sitting alone (here is where you’re using your power of observation)

2. Approach them (remember – by taking the initiative, you are taking the burden off them, and making them more comfortable which they will likely appreciate)

3. Introduce yourself – “Hi, I’m Susan” or “Is this seat taken? (Pause and sit) Hi, I’m Susan.” (smile)

4. Always shake hands if it is a business setting

5. Select one of a few questions you have identified in advance as conversation starters – “Are you new to this group?” or “Have you been a member of this group long?” or “I believe Daniel Pope invited a number of new people to this event. Did he invite you?”, etc.

6. Be prepared to make a follow up statement and ask a question that is more open ended and likely to result in a longer/deeper answer – “You’ve been a member for ten years? Wow! You must value the group. What have you found the most valuable?” or “What advice would you have for a new member like me, in order to get the most out of my membership?” or “You’re a new member too? What interested you in joining?” (Now you are leveraging your strength in listening and your interest in other people.)

Everyone at an event has chosen to be there for some reason. Focus on finding out why those you meet are there. This alone can lead to some very fruitful discussions. It will help you uncover common interests and perhaps even ways you can help them (here’s the mutually beneficial part).

Now, a word about distance. If you are selectively social, you don’t want to become best friends with everyone you meet. And the good news is – you don’t have to. But you don’t have to ignore them either. There is an in-between ground. If you follow the steps above you will get there, more easily than you might have imagined.

As a good networking conversation is brief, it will soon be time to exit the conversation (perhaps to your relief). We have already bitten off quite a bit today, so I’ll give you a chance to digest the above and I will address exiting in my next post.

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Career wellness checkup complete!

We did it! We made it to the end of our career wellness checkup (via Twitter). That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: now we actually have to do something with it. Because, of course, it doesn’t make much of a difference if we don’t…

Just like in my team development sessions, I love the intellectual exercise of conducting assessments and reviewing the results with the team, seeing the “aha” moments. In the right setting, I could talk about the theoretical all day. But in these team sessions, the underlying assumption is that something will actually change as a result. (Can you imagine??) And since change is a verb in this context, that means we actually have to do something. I get rabid about making sure we schedule ample time in my sessions to identify stop/start/continue items and leave with commitments. And, happily, I’ve seen the results that follow from folks making good on these commitments.

Alas, since we are not sitting in a room together, and I am not controlling your schedule, I must leave it to you to review your own answers to the checkup questions over the last several weeks, and identify your own action items. My primary guidance is this: Don’t try to do it all. Pick just a few items – maybe three, tops. Perhaps you recognized a theme to the areas you need to work on. My questions generally revolve around a few themes – knowledge and skills, organizational savvy, network and career direction/vision. If you have recognized that one of these areas needs more work than the others (say…you’ve recognized your skills are not up to date and you haven’t kept up with the latest knowledge in your industry or field), consider building a few action items around that area. Here are a few examples:

-Need / *Action item

– to increase knowledge within industry / * find relevant blogs and subscribe to their free auto email updates

– to increase broader business knowledge / * download free podcasts through iTunesU from top universities

– to learn a new skill / * find someone with that skill and ask to observe them

– to build my internal network outside my team / * connect with other employees through LinkedIn; comment on their status updates or posted discussions

– to build my network outside my company / * attend networking event or ask a well networked friend to invite you to their next networking lunch

– to build a better relationship with my leader’s leader / * volunteer for a special project which will give you exposure to him or her

These are just a few examples. Some actions could require a serious time investment, but many won’t. Think small. Be creative. But whatever you do, don’t wait. I’ll be doing this myself and will update you in a future blog.