Networking for Introverts - Avoid Panic and Build Relationships
by Julie Fleming
Networking is always a popular career topic, and the reason is simple: the people you know and those who know you will have an enormous influence on your personal and career success. If you're an introvert and the very thought of networking makes you want to dive for the nearest rabbit hole, that statement may provoke panic. But keep breathing, because networking doesn't have to be painful -- not even for introverts. How's that? Let's first see why networking is important, and then we'll look at how introverts can get in the game.
Why should you network?
People hire, give work to, and buy from other people they know, like, and trust. Networking allows people to meet others and see what they're about, essentially with no strings attached. Networking is not the process of going somewhere armed with business cards, ready to pounce on the first person you encounter to get their business or to get a job. That's the kind of behavior that gives networking a bad name and leads nice people everywhere to dread it.
Instead, good networking involves relationship-building. It's the process by which you meet someone, learn about him, his work, his interests, his family, what he needs and desires, and so on. It's developing an acquaintanceship that may yield benefits someday for you or someone you know. Sometimes the benefits are immediate: occasionally, networking will reveal an immediate need that you can meet or will lead you toward an as-yet undiscovered opportunity. More frequently, it's simply the opening stages of a relationship that will mature over time.
How can introverts network?
One option reduces stress for introverts and folks who call themselves shy: structured networking events. Structured events, such as "speed networking," match attendees and prescribe a set amount of time for conversation, so you don't have to worry about breaking into clusters of people to introduce yourself, knowing how and when to end a conversation. Without the pressure to figure out how to start and end a contact, you can focus instead on listening to your partner and sharing what you'd like him to know about you.
Another option lies in recognizing the daily networking opportunities that come your way every time you meet someone. When you meet someone at the gym, that's a chance for networking. Attending a party is a networking opportunity. Even attending your child's little league game can be an occasion for networking. Through "social networking," you meet people with whom you already have some connection. You can and should network whenever you meet someone, but you should be networking to build relationships and not to get a job or get business or to get anything else. The best networking occurs when the person with whom you're networking has no idea that you are networking. It's social behavior at its best.
How can you excel in networking conversations?
The bottom line is that you should seek to get to know other people, to look for opportunities to make yourself useful to them, to be other-focused. First, and most importantly, this is an honorable way to conduct oneself in any setting. Second, people like to talk about themselves and their business, but few people like to listen deeply. That's where introverts can shine. You will distinguish yourself by focusing on the person with whom you're in conversation. She will appreciate your attention, and she'll especially appreciate anything you can do to help her. One terrific way to follow up on a networking contact is to send an article that would be of interest to your contact. It shows that you were paying attention, and it'll demonstrate your desire to help that person. Your contact will be flattered by the attention, and she will reciprocate because she will be curious about the person who is so nice and so interested in her and her business or her personal interests. That's a first step to building a strong connection.
Keep these tips in mind, and while you might not enjoy networking right away, you'll begin to find your comfort level.
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Julie Fleming may be contacted at www.lifeatthebar.com
Julie A. Fleming, J.D., A.C.C. provides business and executive coaching with an emphasis on business development, leadership development, time mastery and organization, and work/life integration. Julie holds a coaching certificate from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching program and holds the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential from the International Coach Federation. She is certified to administer the DISC(r) assessment, the Leadership Circle Profile 360, and the Leadership Culture Survey.