introverts

More on the topic of introverts in business

I’ve posted before about introverts, particularly when it comes to networking, and have even recommended the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. But I had never watched her TED talk. I’m facilitating a session this week on Networking for Introverts, so have been thinking about it a lot again, and just watched her talk.

Today, instead of a how-to blog post, I just want to share this link to Susan Cain’s TED talk, for your consumption. Yes, I know it’s the lazy way out of a post. But I also think it’s a great reminder that we all have value, no matter our personality type. And, it discusses the important distinction between being introverted and being shy.

Understanding these distinctions, learning to value what is at my core, and also learning new skills and behaviors which enable me to be effective at (and enjoy!) interacting with many, many people are the reason I grew from a child who was afraid to raise her hand in class to a woman who speaks in public for a living.

We all have gifts to offer. Let’s not forget that about each other, or about ourselves.

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Some of the best leaders are introverts

And some are extroverts.  Bottom line: either can work.  Whether you are introverted or extroverted is not the primary consideration in whether you are, or can be, a great leader.  This idea flies in the face of that unconscious impression formed in our psyches from early on.  Somewhere along the way, we begin to believe that the stereotypical charismatic leader is the only true leader in this world.  Wrong.   

Charismatic types often are good or even great leaders but there is ample research that shows that all leaders are not poured from the same mold.  In fact, in Good to Great, Jim Collins shares findings that leaders of many of the “great” companies do not fit the mold of the charismatic leader.  Many of them were described as naturally introverted.   There were certain other characteristics that they shared that I won’t go into here, but I highly recommend the book.

I often work with coaching clients who are focusing on developing their leadership skills.  Many of them, particularly those early in their careers, worry that they don’t have “it” – natural leadership ability.  They are anxious about trying to become someone they’re not, or pretend that they’re someone they’re not.  They have foreseen failure before they even get started.    Because they get nervous giving presentations.  Because they don’t know how to read people easily.  Because they aren’t uber-confident, directorial, silver-tongued extroverts. Because, because, because. 

There was a fantastic article in Fast Company that made me literally exclaim “yes!” when I read it: How An Introverted Engineer Came Out Of His Shell To Lead Mozilla by Kermit Pattison.  In it, John Lilly, former Mozilla CEO, talks about how he learned to make really small changes – microbehaviors – which had a tremendous effect on how people perceived him.  He didn’t change who he was, just a few things that he did.

You can do this too.  Find a coach or a mentor, read a bit on the topic of leadership behaviors, or attend a workshop, but most importantly, take action.  Start experimenting with tiny changes.  See what works, see what feels authentic for you.  Incorporate change one degree at a time.  Over time, you’ll be amazed at where you can end up.

Recommended Reading – Networking

There are a number of books that I find myself regularly recommending to clients, friends, acquaintances and so on…I just find them so universally of value that I end up mentioning them quite frequently.  As such, I realized that I really should share them with you. In this post, I’ll start with my top two on networking:

 
The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine

This book is a must for people who are terrified of networking.  In addition to the play on words in its title, the content is quite engaging.  I love this book for two reasons: first, because it is practical – full of specific, tangible examples of what one might say in various situations; and second, because it is written from the point of view of someone who is not a natural at all of this networking stuff but learned.  Because she had to learn it step-by-step, she can, and does, explain it clearly.  Not all the examples will fit for all people, but there are so many, you are sure to find some that work for you.  This book, I have actually mentioned in a previous blog but it bears repeating.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills — and Leave a Positive Impression!

Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon

Looking at networking from a different angle, this book illustrates the strategy around networking. With no strategy behind it, your networking may be enjoyable but could result in many wasted opportunities. That was my situation several years back, before this book was recommended to me by a colleague whose networking skills I admire. Now, I love being in a position to help others and I love it when they ask me. In return, I don’t hesitate to ask for what I need because I know we are in it together. Don’t look back with regret at what you “could have” done – apply these concepts and enjoy the effects of building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-how for Business And Career Success

Both of these books are relatively short, easy reads. If you add at least one business book to your summer reading list, consider these.  What are some of your most recommended business books?  Comment on this post to share your recommendations with other readers!

Introverts’ natural strengths in networking – part II

Okay, you’ve successfully entered a networking conversation. It’s going well. Hooray! Now it’s time to leave.
“What??” you say, “But I’m just starting to get comfortable.”

Exactly. Networking conversations are meant to be short. If you are starting to get really comfortable, the conversation may be starting to run long. You really shouldn’t need more than about 5 minutes, tops. Remember, you are making a business contact, not reconnecting with a long lost friend. As a gracious networker, you must allow the other person to connect with other people and achieve their aims for the evening. So, you need to leave the conversation. Here’s how:

1. After the other person makes a statement or observation, resist the urge to say “Really?”, or just mumble “Mmhhh”. This is an inadvertent prod, and will cause them to continue talking. If you say anything like that, immediately jump into step 2.

2. Instead, let them know you have enjoyed the conversation and, if you have been listening well, you have probably identified an opportunity to follow up with them. Let them know you’d like to follow up, and get their assent.

3. Offer your business card and ask for theirs

4. Thank them and reference the next touchpoint you expect to have with them. Perhaps you have an article you are going to send them, or you will likely see them at the next meeting, or they have offered to connect with someone on your behalf.

It doesn’t have to go in exactly this order, but should include these elements. The conversation might look something like this:

Them: “We’ve had fairly good success so far this year increasing our brand awareness in the local market.”

You: “That’s fantastic. It’s been such a pleasure to meet you. (Extend your hand to shake theirs). I’d like to catch up with a former colleague of mine who’s here, but I’d love to continue our discussion another time. May I send you the link to that article we discussed, and perhaps we can arrange to meet for coffee early next week?”

Them: “Sure, that would be great.”

You: “Do you have a business card? Here’s mine. (Exchange cards) Thanks. Enjoy the speaker tognight.” (Walk away).

As someone who used to be paralyzed at the thought of walking into a group of strangers, but now loves it, believe me when I say “you can do this”. Heck, you might even enjoy it someday.

Finally, I will leave you with a book recommendation:

    The Fine Art of Small Talk

by Debra Fine. It is a short, extremely practical, how-to guide and the best bang for your buck out there.

Now, get out there and put these tips and your natural strengths to work. Happy networking!

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.