Are you a good in-person networker? Especially for introverts networking can seem daunting. As a business person, this is so important though. And it`s not only because a strong network can open doors for us. But it`s about making use of the brain, ideas, and wisdom of many, not just our own.
By asking and listening we can find new ideas and broaden our understanding. We often have a limited view of our challenges based on OUR experience. Other people bring in THEIR experiences and the resulting ideas and connections. So, this is going to broaden our view and our opportunities big time.
Plus, being well-connected feels like a safety net and will ultimately make us braver. There are people who have our back and cheer us on. Here are some ideas on how to network (not only) for introverts.
“Your Network Is Your Net Worth.”
(—book title by Porter Gale)
1. Become aware of the net around you
Our network is way bigger than we might recognize at first glance: Think of everyone you know – family, friends, and co-workers of course, but also neighbours, people in your yoga class, people you meet on jobs, and so on … Then think of everyone these persons know, who you could be introduced to if needed. Consider everybody, not just seemingly “influential” people. Because everybody has something to teach. Plus, each person knows people that may turn out to be game-changers for you. And then of course there`s the most basic and most important connection to God who can do crazy, unbelievable stuff and comes up with the best surprises – and who introduces us to those people that we need in our lives.
2. Avoid energy-drain
Especially for introverts only hearing the word “networking event” can feel energy-draining. Networking events are of course a great idea for making new connections. But forcing things on us against our nature may lead to not wanting to network anymore at all. Or endless postponing – procrastination. Instead, we could try out FUN new things that will lead to meeting new people as a “side effect”. For example a 30-day trial in a sports studio. Or a book club, a photo walk, a guided tour, or a charity project, …
3. Make it a HABIT to make small talk with people you encounter
Initiating small talk is probably the toughest advice for introverts but also the most efficient. To some, this comes easy and some just have to practice consistently. If you belong to the ladder, never mind: It`s all a matter of getting in the habit of practicing. Challenge yourself every day and make a game out of it. In random situations like at the till in a shop, you could just say something like “Such nice weather today isn`t it?” and “How are you?”. In situations where you see people repeatedly, you want to introduce yourself. Don`t wait for people to approach you but instead smile and say something like: “This yoga class was so good – how did you like it?” And then you carry on and say: “I`m Jen (or whatever your name is) by the way – what`s your name?” – Connection made. This may sound like a daunting task but just keep practicing on a regular basis and it will become way easier over time.
“Be the kind of person that you want to meet.”
4. Be positive
Do your best not to be judgemental or gossip. This will only backfire. Even Jesus kept on emphasizing how crap and harmful it is to be judgemental. Instead, be a positive person and make an effort to always assume the best about people. Be the kind of person you want to meet.
5. Be actively helpful
Ask if there`s something that you can do for people. If you see an opportunity to help with anything grab it. Don`t wait for people to ask you. Because the helping part of networking is the most fun. Don`t we all love it if we can be useful, make a difference to someone, and be able to help within our capabilities? It`s a true happiness booster.
6. Be open and authentic
Let people in on your journey. Don`t be superficial, and don`t try to pretend all is fine and dandy when it`s not. It`s ok to fail at times. No one is perfect and if you don`t come across as perfect it just makes you more relatable. Also, people can`t give you valuable advice if they don`t know that you need some.
7. Ask for what you need
In order to do this, you would of course have to know yourself what exactly you need. So, maybe you need to find that out first. Perhaps it`s an idea concerning a certain issue or maybe it`s a connection to a certain business sector. Be specific and make it a proper question to make it easy for the other person to help you. For example, ask: “Do you by chance know somebody who works in the pattern department of a fashion company?” The person might say: “Hm, actually I know someone who knows someone…” – and there we go.
"Always be prepared to be amazed."
8. Be open to suggestions
When someone proposes something don`t say: “Well, BUT…” Instead, take it in, and truly consider trying it. Remember that they have experiences you haven`t had and appreciate that they are willing to let you in on their knowledge. You never know, in hindsight this suggestion might be the one that helped you on the next step.
9. Listen and shut your cakehole
Encourage others to share their knowledge by truly listening. While the other person is talking, don`t think about your reply or what you are going to say next, but actively listen. “You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn”, says journalist Celeste Headlee in her TED talk: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don`t.” And: “I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I`m always prepared to be amazed.” (Also, listen to her TED Talk – it`s truly great!)
10. Take notes
Note each and every suggestion in your notebook. Especially names and numbers. Otherwise, you`ll forget them or misplace them. Some might seem insignificant to you at the moment. But at a later point on your journey, after having gained more understanding and insight, you might find them super useful all of a sudden. For example, the idea for this very Business Story Magazine originated from a conversation I had at a networking event years ago!
11. Don`t assume you might be a burden
Usually, people love to help with their expertise and connections. To most of us, it`s not a burden but a pleasure to be able to help. Barbara Sher writes in her book “Wishcraft”: “Most of us remember and treasure every part we’ve ever played in someone else’s survival, satisfaction, or success. …It’s because helping each other is creative and it makes us feel good.”
12. Give Feedback
Let other people know about your experiences with their suggestions down the road. Tell them about the phone call to that connection that they`ve given you. “It is a great way to show your interest and your respect for someone else’s opinion, it energizes your relationship, it shows someone: I`m listening to you, I pay attention to what you say, I value what you say,” says Gretchen Rubin on her podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin”. Her sister Elizabeth Craft adds: “If you take on a suggestion, you`re giving someone else the pleasure of giving. It makes them feel good to know they gave you something valuable.” Plus, feedback creates accountability for you, because you want to report good news.
13. Don`t waste too much time on Social Media
Introverts often fall into the trap of thinking that they can network online via Social Media. However, in my experience and from what I have observed when finding out about other people’s success stories, nothing is more powerful than “real-life” connections. They can`t be replaced by Social Media. Often, we use Social Media as an excuse to stay on our couches for networking instead of going out and creating “true” connections. Depending on your business and niche, Social Media may certainly be an important opportunity to connect with others. However, be mindful of the time you invest in Social Media networking. Keep in mind that it doesn’t replace a solid, non-virtual network.