Why introverts are (really) better networkers
Most advice articles about building a network start out with overused advice like “take lots of business cards!” and “go to as many events as possible!” and “try emailing strangers out of the blue to see if they’d like to get coffee!” This is not one of those articles.
I’m an introvert. I’m not interested in talking to a lot of people. I hate big events, and meetings with strangers make me nervous.
I also understand that building authentic relationships is one of the most important things I can do for my career. As a young professional, I know it’s important to start networking. But how can I do it in an authentic way, avoiding events and coffee with strangers?
Through a ton of research and some uncomfortable experimentation, I’ve figured out a system that works for me to meet new people, have interesting conversations, and keep in touch with the people I like.
If you’re ready to build a better network, I’ll walk you step-by-step through some of the challenges of introvert networkers and how to overcome them…
3 Introvert Advantages to Use While Networking
We’ve been led to believe that networking is an extrovert’s game. The conventional wisdom says if you want to be good at networking, you’ll have to act like an extrovert.
I simply don’t buy that.
Introverts have been told that they’re inferior networkers. I call this the Introvert Networker Myth, and there are 3 main reasons why I think it’s a myth:
- Introverts are better connectorsWe’re better at creating deep relationships. When we connect with someone, it’s powerful and we’re loyal. We’re selective about who we give our attention to, and we’re more skeptical of smooth talkers. We’d rather have one deep conversation than 20 instances of small talk. We love to help, and we only ask for things when we really need the help.All of these things aren’t true for every introvert, but as a whole, introverts have a real advantage at creating loyalty and connection. It’s time we recognized that advantage.
- The size of your network matters less than the quality of your relationshipsAlmost everyone agrees with this in principle. How many of us actually practice it? If you measure your networking success by the number of business cards you got or the amount of email introductions you’ve received, then you’re doing it wrong. I would rather (and I have) leave a convention center to buy one person a beer than spend all night drinking free beers at the evening event.As an introvert, find people you genuinely like or admire, and invest heavily in them. Jettison the acquaintances who don’t interest you.
- Events and happy hours are among the worst places to meet peopleThere’s a reason why so much of “networking” is based around events. Extroverts love events because they’re energetic, and you can talk to a lot of people at once. The problem is at events everyone has rehearsed answers and asks the same questions over and over. You don’t create real connection until you get behind that facade.This morning, I met a guy in the locker room at the gym. It was the third day in a row I saw him in there, so we started talking about P90X. His name is Rich. I have no idea where he works, but I know his arms are sore as hell today. We know something personal about one another. Because of that, Rich and I are already more connected than I will ever be with the people behind the business cards on my desk. I’ll probably see Rich tomorrow, too, and we’ll get to know each other a little better.You can skip events and still build a great network.
3 limiting beliefs that stalled my career
Okay, so if introverts really have all these networking advantages, why is networking still so hard?
For me – and for my readers – I’ve found 3 main limiting beliefs (there are many others) that hold introverts back from meeting and connecting with new people:
- Belief: “Some people are born extroverts. I’m just not wired to be good at talking to people.” Reality: When I tested this belief, I found people actually prefer talking to introverts because of one trick up our sleeves: We LISTEN. My active listening made people feel comfortable and valued. I realized what I thought was a weakness (not being able to think of a lot to say) was actually an asset (thoughtfulness, and good questions).My rule of thumb is to only talk 20% of the time in a conversation and to ask questions to get the other person talking as much as possible. My conversations stopped being the trite – “where do you work,” “what do you do,” etc – as soon as I brought curiosity and generosity to the conversation.
- Belief: “If I try to start a conversation I’ll get embarrassed, or worse, ignored.”Reality: I did an experiment where I spoke to 5 random strangers every day. It was terrifying for me, but my fears were unfounded. We talked about the weather, or where a stranger got his cool shoes. I realized the stakes of starting a conversation were never as high as I was making them in my head. Pro tip: people love to get compliments.
- Belief: “I just have to be myself, and eventually I’ll get noticed for x (a new job, a raise, a promotion, an award, etc)”Reality: I could write a whole article about this limiting belief alone. I wish we lived/worked in a society that spontaneously recognized great work and automatically gave promotions to those who deserve it most. Unfortunately, we don’t. I found I have to communicate to my boss and others what I’m doing well. It’s not shameless self-promotion but making sure I’m valued at work. For me, the best way to do this was in our weekly meeting, presenting metrics for the things I’ve accomplished.
If you hate events, where do you meet new people?
I meet new people in two main places. I suggest you try these, though your results may vary from mine:
- Ask the people you currently know who you should meet - Explain a project to a friend then ask who they know that could help. This has the benefit of getting a warm introduction and not needing a topic for conversation. Instead, you get to talk with someone about a project. The hard part? You need to be working on something interesting and worthy of talking about.
- Go volunteer on a committee, nonprofit board, etc – This is great because you get to show off your expertise. Tons of organizations need volunteers to offer skills and/or time. You may be able to get to know organizers of events, work with high-profile speakers, or meet regularly with colleagues in your industry. The main benefit of this approach is that your hard work will earn you respect, and you’ll develop relationships around a common cause.
These aren’t the only places to develop your network as an introvert. At your job, do your best to stay in touch with clients you’ve liked and former coworkers. Calling people on their birthdays is a great way to keep in touch.
Networking as an introvert (for everyone, really) should be a long game.
Of course, everyone’s network will be built on a combination of these and other tactics. Be genuine. Ask lots of questions. Stay interested in other people. Keep in touch with people you’ve liked, and with time you will build a great network.
Over to You
Today, I don’t have a huge network, and I don’t need one. But I do have a small group of people I like and respect who I stay in touch with. I know if I need their help, they’ll be willing to help me at a moment’s notice. That’s my definition of a great network for an introvert.
Maybe you see your own limiting beliefs above. Or maybe you’ve thought of a different psychological barrier for introverts not on my list. Share your #1 barrier in the comments below.
Bennett Garner helps introverts have comfortable conversations and build valuable networks. Join his insider’s list for access to exclusive material and monthly resources for getting raises, promotions, and landing your dream job. Get his 3,900-word Definitive Guide to Introvert Networking (free, no email address required) for exact scripts and tactics for building authentic connections.
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