Networking For The Inexperienced – How To Build Networks When You Are Introverted Or Shy
Networking for the inexperienced can seem like a minefield in itself. You’re not getting acquainted with colleagues, but there to find new connections that will directly, or indirectly, lead to more business opportunities. So how are you meant to present yourself? What you are meant to say?
Networking can become an even more daunting challenge if you’re introverted or shy. But before looking at how to overcome these added obstacles, it’s worth distinguishing between introversion and shyness, as they are often confused or conflated.
Introversion is a personality type which involves being primarily interested in one’s thoughts and feelings, rather than the external environment. Introverts are stimulated more by reflection than social interaction. Introverts enjoy alone time and find very stimulating environments more draining compared to extroverts (who thrive when surrounded by a lot of people).
Shyness is commonly mistaken for introversion. But they are different. Introverts don’t necessarily find social situations with strangers awkward, tense and uncomfortable like shy people do. An introvert may not be worried in the slightest about networking, but a shy person may be. You can be both introverted and shy – they’re not mutually exclusive. You can also be a shy extrovert (i.e. you feel energised by social situations, but fear speaking up).
Now that the definitions are out of the way, here are some tips on how to handle networking if any of these descriptions fit the bill for you.
Networking for the inexperienced: Using introversion to your advantage
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, introverts make up 30-50%. There’s no reason why so many people have to be disadvantaged when it comes to networking, just because of their personality type. Stefan Thomas, author of Networking for Dummies, highlights that:
“Introverts can find networking intimidating because of all the louder extroverts in the room trying to sell themselves. But introverts make the best networkers because they’re good listeners and tend to be more interested in other people than about talking about themselves.”
Thomas advises that networking is less intimidating for introverts if they arrive early, since you’re less likely to have to edge your way into a conversation. Psychologist Rob Yeung says to aim for quality, not quantity, when it comes to networking. Trying to meet everyone in the room will involve a lot of small talk and perhaps little substance. This tactic will soon zap the energy reserves of an introvert. Instead, set yourself the goal of talking to a handful of people. This will be less exhausting and is more likely to lead to more interesting and fruitful conversations.
Also, if you’re starting to feel exhausted, take a breather for a while and then rejoin. And don’t feel you are obligated to stay until the end of the networking session. If you know that you don’t have any social energy left, then sticking around will only create awkwardness, instead of useful connections.
Tips for shy people
If the prospect of approaching a bunch of strangers intimidates you, there are some ways to make the experience significantly more comfortable.
Start out small. Approach people that you recognise or have some connection to. This will get the ball rolling and will make it easier for you to be introduced to others. Having a successful initial conversation will also create the confidence you need when talking to people you don’t know.
How to Win Friends and Influence People, written by Dale Carnegie, is the first best-selling self-help book. And it is full of advice that can be used by shy people in networking situations. If you want to make friends out of strangers, Carnegie stressed it’s important to smile (a simple rule which people forget), ask a question (which is much easier for a shy person to do than offering an opinion) and say the person’s name (Carnegie noted that “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”).
Be prepared with ice-breaker questions (and a clear description of your role and interests) so that you can avoid – as far as possible – the awkward scenarios that you fear. Don’t give a long sales pitch about yourself, but nail down some key points in a concise and easy-to-understand way.
In certain industries (such as the media and PR) networking is unavoidable. Now if you’re introverted or shy, you may avoid working in these industries for this very reason. However, introverted and shy people can (and do) excel as journalists or PR officers. To consistently put yourself out of your comfort clearly indicates that you are self-motivated, dedicated and driven. These traits are crucial for both self-development and career development.