Remote work seems to please introverts, who may have found noisy offices distracting, the constant contact with other humans exhausting.
As branding expert Richard Etienne recently told the BBC, “The workplace was created by extroverts, for extroverts. The ease with which people can access your space without invitation can be intense.” Working from home allows introverts to focus on the task at hand. While many are analytical and empathetic –– traits prized by bosses and clients during the COVID-19 pandemic– remote work allows them to maximize their energy. Plus, videoconferences tend to be more democratic than traditional meetings because everyone is given time to speak. Indeed, extroverts are the ones really champing at the bit to get back to the office.
It’s safe to assume that introverts, by and large, are having some of their most productive months ever.
That’s not to suggest that introverts are isolated loners. Nothing could be further from the truth. Introverts can throw large parties, they can host fundraisers, they can work a room. They have a complete magic to them! The distinction is that while extroverts are energized by meeting lots of people, introverts are energized by their time in solitude. That’s why they do well working at home — they have built-in time for solitary recharging.
That’s also why introverts might want to avoid networking… But that would be a mistake. So here are some networking tips for introverts.
Shift Your Viewpoint
People sometimes use introversion as a synonym for shyness. However, the two types are very different. Dr. Bernardo Carducci, PhD, describes shyness as having “excessive self-consciousness and excessive negative critical self-evaluation” –– like facing a mirror all day long, especially during social situations. If you see an introvert and a shy person standing against a wall during a party, “the introvert prefers to be there” while “[s]hy people are standing against that wall because they feel they have to. They don’t know what else to do. They don’t want to be there.”
There’s nothing wrong with being shy of course, and there are lots of success strategies you can use. However, the reason I make the distinction is that too often shy people and introverts receive identical advice about managing social situations. That sort of blanket advice isn’t always helpful. Shy folks might benefit from the “fake it ’til you make it” mantra, but introverts often have no problem interacting with strangers. They’d just rather not have to for an extended period of time, because at a certain point they’ll need to recharge alone.
One of the most important networking tips for introverts is to play to your strengths. The reason so many introverts and extroverts hate networking is they view it as transactional. They think about buying a stranger coffee and then asking about their company’s hiring policies. That’s one reason why Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino thinks participants in a study she conducted about professional networking a few years ago felt so unclean that they became unusually focused on personal hygiene products.
The key is to shift your point of view. High-level executives know they have something to offer, while lower-level staffers may feel outmatched. But if you think you’ll only be taking, then of course you’ll feel like a user. So, approach any interaction as one where you have something to contribute. As Gino points out, “If you focus on what you can offer to the relationship, it might be an important mindset to have, and remove some of those feelings of inauthenticity.” So start by thinking about your gifts, your own generosity, and what you can bring to the table.
Don’t go to an event with the goal of collecting a bunch of random names. Your goal is to forge a meaningful relationship. Quality over quantity is the name of the game for introverts at networking events, and that takes time. Dorie Clark, a careers columnist with The Wall Street Journal, recommends getting to know someone for at least one year before making a significant request.
Our social media-driven society has trained us to value quantity over quality as we try to accumulate thousands of followers and “connections.” Yet as an introvert your true talent is for forging strong bonds with a smaller collection of chums. And that’s more than just okay. Because the truth is one meaningful relationship can change your life in a way that 1,000 casual professional acquaintances perhaps never will. Of course, the question remains: if you’re fairly new in your profession, what could you possibly have to offer a high-level executive? My take on this is to remember that networking conversations are investments, and you, my friend, will have a return in the form of fulfillment, generosity and good energy towards those you meet.
Be a Joiner
Introverts have a real advantage when it comes to professional societies and service organizations. They often prefer focusing on a single task or project rather than multiple diversions. So by joining one or two organizations rather than six or seven, they are able to go deeper and make a difference. If you’re an introvert, consider volunteering for the membership committee of an organization. It gives you a ready-made reason to contact senior execs. Plus, chances are other committee members will be further along in their respective careers. As your small group works toward a common goal, you’ll form real bonds.
Just as working from home may favor the introverted, sooner or later everyone is going to want to attend in-person events. After all, face-to-face connections tend to be more meaningful. So whether it’s next week or next year, make sure to be prepared. Think about some open-ended, conversation-provoking questions. Bring your innate curiosity and listening skills to the event. Instead of going out the night before, spend a quiet night at home reading. Schedule time after the event to recharge, although make sure to send an email to any new connections within a day or two. I’d also recommend finding events that are smaller in more quiet venues. Most introverts do better with smaller conversational groups rather than large gatherings.
Introverts can be great at networking –– just as they can be great at sales, or law, or well, anything really. The key is playing to your strengths while seeing your personality type as a strength– not a weakness.
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