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.