Most of us realise we need to network, both within and outside of our organisations, in order to build effective collaborative relationships that could serve us in our careers. Networking, however, doesn’t always come easily to introverts. There are, however, some simple tactics that work well, in both online and offline situations, from finding the right people you want to meet, initiating contact, and steps towards building deeper connections.
Introverts versus extroverts
But first of all, what do we mean by extroverts and introverts? Abernethy defined an extrovert as
“one who enters with interest and confidence into social activities of the direct type and has little liking for planning or detailed observation.”
Conversely, introverts were defined as being
“below the general average in social inclination and above the average in liking for thought.”
In the business world, introverts have generally had a bad rap, with the assumption that introverts aren’t go-getters. Some of this may have come from a few stereotypes of leadership that exist. In truth, introverts make great leaders, as their analytical qualities and clear-thinking are often more helpful than someone that can put on a great verbal display.
Of course, talking about introverts and extroverts is exploring the extreme ends of bell curve, and I’m not sure the distinction is always so clear-cut. Hence the definition of the ambivert, the person that falls in the middle.
The impact of being introvert versus extravert on networking
On my arrival in The Netherlands and keen to establish my business over here, I set off on attending as many events where I could meet other professionals as I could.
I would often return elated, having met some interesting people, and having had great conversations. My husband (a self-proclaimed introvert) would say how much he hates that kind of thing – which is what has led me to consider networking approaches for introverts.
Using myself as a kind of ‘extrovert/ambivert’ example, I am usually quite comfortable in an unfamiliar setting or a room full of strangers. There are however some definite tactics that I have developed over the years:
Make eye contact
On those occasions where you know no-one, and others are stood in groups chatting, and you really don’t want to end up awkwardly on your own – you have to ‘look up’ and at people, rather than lowering your eyes. I am always incredibly grateful when someone catches my eye and smiles. That is an opening – take it! A simple ‘Is it ok if I join you?’ will get you in their circle, and you can move swiftly into introducing yourself.
Know your story and be interested in theirs
Having your introduction already in mind can help. For me, a simple, I’ve just moved here from the UK, says it all in a few words, and gives whoever you’re talking to something to pick up on for them to ask a follow-up question, or for you to ask them something simple like, ‘have you been to this event before?’
When meeting people for the first time, it’s important to remember you are ‘exchanging pleasantries’ – so ask them about who they are, what they do. Ask questions, be genuine in your interest. You’ll soon know if there’s a rapport, and then it won’t seem awkward to ask if you can connect to keep in touch after the event.
Look for others on their own
Sometimes at events you can look around and it looks like almost everyone is in a group, chatting animatedly to people they know. For those situations, I usually look for someone else that is on their own. I would then offer a bright ‘Hi, I’m Rachel, is this your first time at this event?’ Easy questions then can follow, where are you from, what was your interest in this event?
Take a friend
All of the above may sound like sheer terror for the introvert. Social occasions with strangers may not be their ‘cup of tea’, but this does not mean to say that introverts cannot also have success with networking this way. From speaking to some introverts in my circle, their tips include going with a colleague to events where they don’t know anyone else. That way that awkwardness of walking into a room alone is taken away, and there is always someone to go back to.
Know how to move on
For true networking, it’s a good idea not to stay glued to the same person, although knowing how to navigate endings can be tricky. I think honesty is the best approach – a simple, ‘I’m going to try and talk to a couple more people. It’s been really nice meeting you, good luck with the rest of the day’ or ‘I’ll send you a Linked In request when I get back as it would be great to be connected, enjoy the rest of the evening!’