A person once told me that she would rather clean the floor of Grand Central Station with her own toothbrush than network. Comments like this kind of sum up our overall attitude about networking.
For many people, introvert or not, networking is like falling into the black hole. Scary, tiresome, unproductive, mysterious and endless – is this YOU?
I may not be able to turn you into the poster child for networking. However, I have successfully learned many ways that will be easy for you to use, which can turn the dreaded networking into an acceptable activity.
1. Redefine networking. Networking is this decade’s terminology for building relationships with other people. We’ve done this since we were infants and it comes somewhat naturally, unless you put undue pressure on yourself. I think networking has us tensed up by thinking that we need some specific outcome in our interactions with others. While that is apt to happen anyway, it won’t be the outcome if you don’t first build a relationship with someone before putting demands on that relationship.
2. Don’t work the room. A big misconception many people have when going to a cocktail party or meeting is that you have to cover as many people as you can. Not true. No one (and most importantly those of us who tend toward introversion) likes superficial relationships. There is no way you can work the room and become meaningful with anyone. The simple idea of trying to meet everyone can drain the energy right out of an introvert. Adjust your thinking before you go.
3. Set a goal. Rather than make an event an open-ended, never-ending activity set some goals like how long you will stay and how many people you will engage with at a deep level. My own goal for meeting people is usually three. Meeting three people is fairly easy to achieve in most settings. Knowing that there is an end in sight helps you stay focused and positive about interacting with new people.
4. Be a Friend. When you are meeting people, particularly at business-oriented events, it’s too easy to slip into a mode of wanting something in return. That feels icky for you and the other person. Rather than thinking about other people as a potential client, resource or supporter, think of making friends with them. Find common ground and interests. You will be more genuine and you’ll feel better about your interactions. This makes networking much more worthwhile.
5. Speak to someone without having a purpose. This is especially true while at work. Introverts tend to focus on their work and speak with a purpose in mind. That’s all good, but you also need to branch out. Make a point of chatting with someone for just a couple of minutes without having a specific purpose. Keep in mind that when it comes to relationships the biggest commodity you are trading is your time and attention. Networking or building relationships at work is one of the most important things you will do. It’s critical for your ongoing success.
6. Follow up. When you meet someone and you feel a connection, make the first move. We are inherently lazy creatures especially when it comes to communication with others. We like this new person and even think about contacting them, but we rarely do. You are doing the other person a favor by following up and following through to make contact for further interaction. If you email them, you may also need to make a phone call, as email habits and technology cannot be relied upon.
7. Follow up again. You’ve met for coffee and are now thinking they should call you for the next interaction. Maybe, but don’t count on it. Wait for some period of time and if you don’t hear from them, call. I know of a few people who consider me their best friend. They never call and they also love the fact that I do. Be prepared to carry an unequal weight of building a relationship.
You may never love networking or the act of building ongoing, new relationships, but with these simple actions, you will be a networking rock star.
Getting ahead as an introvert doesn’t have to be painful or difficult. I continue to share great ways to make it to the top as the climbing manager you are. Learn these skills and others that will accelerate your career. I offer an ongoing FREE newsletter full of valuable career advice and insight. When you sign up for it, you will also gain access to “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” the eworkbook to improve your job where you are today.