Networking is crucial in all aspects of business and career development. Some people relish networking opportunities, usually folks who identify as extroverts and feel energized in large gatherings.
For introverts, networking can be more difficult. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to identify myself as an introvert, so I understand. But just because you’re more introspective doesn’t mean networking has to be avoided, endured, or viewed as an excruciating necessity.
The reason many introverts (myself included) seem to despise networking is, I believe, because of misconceptions about both networking and introversion. People who are quiet and reserved can be just as good – if not better – at networking than those who are more outgoing.
The key is to dispel common networking myths and play to your strengths as an introvert. Here are a few things I’ve learned about accepting my introversion and turning it into a super-power:
Dispelling networking myths
There are many myths about networking I’ve had to unlearn over the years. In a nutshell, networking is simply about developing mutually beneficial relationships with others, both professionally and personally. You don’t need to be a social butterfly to do that.
Some people assume networking is slimy and they feel phony while doing it. Others think networking is about begging for favors. Both assumptions can’t be further from the truth. While some folks can be dishonest when networking, authentic networking is more about making connections and sharing information and helpful advice.
Play to your strengths
Another networking misconception is you must be outgoing to succeed. But everyone has a professional network, whether they realize it or not. Your friends, family, co-workers, and former co-workers all comprise your network. The best thing to do is set reasonable expectations when meeting new people and play to your strengths as an introvert.
For example, you may dread large gatherings and prefer one-on-one conversations. In that case, schedule meetings over coffee with potential connections or attend smaller events.
If you do attend a large gathering, watch your expectations. Aim to have one or two good conversations, instead of trying to collect a dozen business cards. Think quality over quantity and use your introvert super-power of being a great listener.
Look for connections everywhere
As an introvert, happy hours and professional mixers may make you cringe. I usually feel uncomfortable at these types of events, and I remember also feeling awkward at professional conferences I’ve attended in the past.
But rubbing elbows at big events isn’t the only way to network. Instead, look for ways to make connections naturally in every area of your life. One great way to do this is through volunteering.
Volunteer for a cause that interests you and you’ll be around like-minded people, make new connections and learn new things – all while helping your community. I’ve always found volunteering to be a more fun and natural way to meet people, mainly because I’m more relaxed.
Embrace your introversion
Contrary to what some people believe, introverts can be very effective networkers. A tendency toward introversion doesn’t mean you don’t like people or you’re not good at interacting with others. It’s more so that your preferences for meeting people and making connections may be different.
Like the advice from the wildly popular book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, embrace the positives of your introversion and know you can develop lasting professional relationships. You may be self-reflective, but you also may be a great listener and be able to connect deeply with a smaller group of people.
Good luck with your networking efforts!
Stay safe and healthy during these crazy times, and feel free to reach out to me here if you have any ideas on topics you’d like me to write about.