Four Suggestions When You Can’t Stand Networking
(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)
Welcome to this edition of Career Tips dedicated to networking! When it comes to life in the office and building one’s career, networking is a theme which recurs time and again. Interestingly, networking does not challenge everyone in the same way. Indeed, extroverts don’t feel daunted by networking events as they naturally feel at home in groups but they often wonder how to make the most of these opportunities: they need tips to network most effectively.
In contrast, introverts dread networking events. As a matter of fact, any collective situation is potentially challenging for introverts because it is de-energising. Networking involves groups and people they don’t know: a double challenge for introverts. This article is for them.
1. Don’t think of it as “networking”
British author and freelance radio and television broadcaster Carole Stone called her first book on networking “The Art of Making Friends“. Bill Clinton said of networking that it was an opportunity to share one’s humanness. For me, networking which had always been a terrible chore finally became palatable when I stopped thinking of it as such and instead thought of it in terms of making new friends in the office. I reflected on why I would want friends and here is what I came up with:
– first, to get information, be looped in: from the office gossip to tips about getting things done, knowing whom to approach, how to present matters in order to be effective,
– then, to get support: we all need help from time to time so it’s not enough to know who would be able to be of assistance, it’s just as important to have struck an acquaintance with that person ahead of time so that they are likely to lend a hand when the time arises,
– third, to progress: when we like people, we are delighted to be of service to them. Friends open up doors, refer you onto their acquaintances and facilitate your career progression, and
– finally, to influence: friends are more likely to listen sympathetically to your ideas because they know, like and, hopefully to some extent at least already trust you!
Don’t we all need friends? Clearly, extraverts will make friends more easily than introverts but introverts have that ability to strike up deep and lasting friendships. As such, approach a networking event like you would a party: go about engaging with the people there as you would in a party. You needn’t speak to many people. I often only speak to one person, sometimes two. But I focus on making a real connection, meeting someone and really engaging them in an exchange.
2. Be generous
The most difficult moment for the introvert is to walk into the room. Often filled with complete strangers, it will give you stomach cramps. And if you spot someone you know, the temptation is to stay with them and only them. But that tactic won’t make you any new friends will it? And if you don’t know anyone, have you instead hugged the walls, wishing you could disappear? Or just hung out by the buffet, stuffing your face with petits fours? Again, not a very effective strategy.
How about if you spoke to people out of generosity? To share your knowledge and your capabilities? To let them know about the resource you represent and how they could intelligently utilise you? Adopt a generous mindset: many introverts have a deep expertise so connect to what you are particularly good at/knowledgeable about and share your talent!
I remember the first time I tried this out: of course, it felt a bit clunky because it was new but it also felt lighter. I looked at the people around the room wondering whom I might be generous with: suddenly, instead of being unsure about what to say, I felt confident I had lots to discuss!
3. Make a good first impression
OK so here you are: you are an introvert at a networking event and you are happy to make one or two new friends. You know what you are good at and you are ready to tell someone about it. But who will that be? My method: let it happen naturally. Start by looking at folks: don’t glare, just let your eyes gently rest on those people who are in your line of sight. Making eye contact comes across as a mark of honesty: you’re open and inviting but your gaze also shows genuine interest.
And smile. Your smile is your most powerful piece of body language. A genuine smile is a universal sign of warmth that you can send knowing it will be understood and welcome by all. Let’s think about it together: what goes through your mind when someone smiles at you? How about “I feel comfortable with them”? “They seem like a nice person”? A smile elicits all sorts of positive thoughts, it puts us at ease even with a complete stranger and it creates the first thread of trust.
When you make eye connections and smile, someone will naturally walk up to you: that meeting will just happen – without any work! And then shake hands: firmly, not limply, nor crushingly. Get a good ‘web to web’ contact as your fingers wrap around the other person’s hand: in this fashion, you will project both strength of character and openness of mind!
4. Build rapport
After you’ve introduced yourself, ask about them. Wonder about the challenges they face, the objectives they are working towards, the priorities they believe in. Get their views – let them speak. People are always happy to tell you about their stuff so one question may be enough! While they are talking, listen – I mean: really listen. Notice the tone of their voice: when it goes down because they are talking about a problem or rises when they mention something that’s exciting to them. Observe their body language and get a sense of how they feel about what they’re saying. And of course: listen to their words, what words they chose and the spin they are putting on what they’re sharing.
You will gather a wealth of information when you really listen which will allow you to tailor your answer and demonstrate that you were paying attention. Introverts are naturally good at listening to key messages. You will know the right question to follow-up with or the right comment to make or what to share about yourself that will be truly relevant to your new friend.
There you have it: a few suggestions for those of you who are introverts and simply dread having to network. Do those tips seem helpful? relevant? Feasible?
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