How to network when you’re introverted
How to network when you’re introverted
By Nancy Ancowitz
We’re about half of the population. We like to think before we speak. We spend time alone because it refreshes us, not because we’re lonely. And we would rather have a few in-depth conversations than work the room at a networking event. We’re introverts.
Many of us have some introverted and some extroverted inclinations, but most lean more one way than the other. Personality assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, can offer context and insight into your tendencies, but basically, introverts are people who draw and recharge their energy from within, while extroverts get energy from people and other external sources. The list of well-known introverts might surprise you. These include Bill Gates, Steve Martin, and the late Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post.
Introverts may excel at marketing other people and products, but compared to many extroverts, marketing ourselves does not always come naturally. In a world that seems to reward glad-handing and horn-tooting, how can we attract the best employers and clients? How do we compete in business environments that reward thinking quickly, knowing a little about a lot, and talking rather than listening — traits that aren’t characteristically our strong suits?
Dispelling the Myths
A common misconception is that introverts are shy or suffer from social anxieties. This is no truer than for extroverts. Many introverts like to be around people. I’m a particularly social introvert. I give frequent presentations, love to entertain, have a vast network and some particularly deep relationships. But I need plenty of time to collect my thoughts between encounters.
Another common misconception is that introverts must act more like extroverts to be successful. But going against your nature to promote yourself isn’t necessary. You simply need to approach self-promotion differently than extroverted peers — from the inside out. That means looking inward, identifying your strengths, and articulating them with clarity and confidence. As an introvert, you can use the power of self-reflection, contemplation, and the ability to listen carefully to your audience to great benefit. You actually have certain advantages, including strengths at building relationships, creating a vision and strategizing.
I know from being an introvert throughout my varied 25-year career, which has included stints as a nationally known jewelry designer, vice president of marketing for a major financial institution and now as a coach. To promote myself effectively, I first create an environment that supports my introverted ways. My ideal work environment includes a space of my own for thinking with minimal interruptions; a few close colleagues with whom I can test ideas; independence to run with those ideas; and quiet time for reading, writing and problem solving.
Next, I try to make the best use of my natural inclinations instead of trying to turn myself into an extrovert (impossible!). I’ve assembled the following tips to help other introverts become comfortable with self-promotion. Extroverts may benefit from adapting these tips to their own style or studying them to learn more about their introverted friends and colleagues.
You don’t need to brag to promote yourself. However, by preparing well for encounters in advance, you’ll have ready indisputable facts about your accomplishments and what you excel at and enjoy, plus you’ll feel comfortable stating them. By listening carefully to your conversation partners, you can adapt your fact-based message and make it relevant to their interests.
Enlist event organizers to introduce you, especially to the speaker, who may be an important contact for you. You can then gain instant clout when networking by referring to your conversation with the speaker.
Use visualization techniques to avoid being overwhelmed by large group events. Envision the event in advance, anticipate the challenges you might encounter, and plan how you can be effective nonetheless. It helps to stand near the food table, which is typically surrounded by chipper, nibbling faces. Plan several simple opening lines focused on getting to know the people you meet. If the event is a presentation, think of several questions in advance to ask the speaker during the question-and-answer period or afterward.
You don’t have to respond quickly. If you’re asked questions that feel invasive or demand an immediate response, simply say that you need time to think about them and will follow up with answers.
Don’t apologize for what you don’t know. Introverts sometimes hesitate to speak if they feel they lack sufficient expertise. Instead, mention what you do know and ask questions to invite others to share their knowledge.
Keep track of details. At the end of a social event, find a private place to make notes on the backs of business cards of people you’ve met. You’ll be better able to take advantage of and follow up with potential connections.
Stay in touch with existing contacts. For introverts, this is easier than making new contacts, so it’s worth the effort. Maintain ties with valued colleagues, managers, and clients throughout your career. Learn the appropriate way to contact each one. Use your listening skills to uncover their interests and concerns. Follow up periodically with news, facts and notices of pertinent events. Keep your relationships alive by sending holiday cards each year.
Take advantage of your writing skills. Being introspective will help you to craft e-mails, notes and other materials targeted to your audience. Promote yourself by understanding others’ needs and matching them to your capabilities.
Use the telephone. In general, introverts like to be well-prepared, rather than speaking extemporaneously. When calling others, have ready an outline of your key points and responses to difficult questions.
— Ms. Ancowitz, is a coach, consultant and speaker based in New York. She teaches at New York University and Makor/92nd Street Y and is vice president of the International Coach Federation-NYC. She is a former vice president at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
Gary Perman is President of Perman Technical Search Group, a national search firm that specializes in recruiting Executives to Engineers in the technology industry since 1996.
If you have questions about this article, feel free to contact him at [email protected]
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