How I Learned to Love Networking as an Introvert
There’s no doubt about it - introvert leaders are powerful. Susan Cain highlights this in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Introverts make up approximately 30-50% of the population. The rest are extroverts or ambiverts (those who fall in the middle).
Growing up, pretty much everyone described me as quiet, with the exception of my mother. Instead, she would say that I talked A LOT but would then retreat to my bedroom afterwards for hours of quiet alone time.
So it was ironic to my friends and relatives that all of my previous jobs have been so-called "extroverted" positions: Community Organizer, Advocacy Coordinator, Trainer, and Executive Director.
But what they didn’t know was that I always felt like an imposter when I had to engage in networking for work. I dreaded attending networking events, where I’d be expected to make my way around the room, introduce myself to strangers, and try to engage in conversation.
To prepare myself, I read countless articles on networking and introversion. A lot of articles about networking had the same advice: Set a goal of how many people to talk to. Bring a more extroverted friend or colleague with you. Have your elevator speech prepared. Leave at a certain time. Try to have fun. Be yourself.
None of this worked. I still felt awkward at networking events. I’d constantly wonder when I could leave or go home. I found myself avoiding networking and small talk. After each event, I was drained of energy and left feeling like I didn’t really connect with anyone.
But all of this turned around when I became an entrepreneur. As a nonprofit consultant and executive coach, most of my clients come through personal referrals. That means I have to network if I want to pay the bills, eat, and travel.
As an introvert, I found workarounds to the traditional ways of networking. It comes down to this: Introverts network differently because for introverts, networking is best when it’s almost entirely one-on-one.
Here are three ways of networking I’ve used that feel authentic and leave me feeling inspired.
Use social media to your advantage.
The internet gives us the opportunity to put ourselves out there without having to first engage with anyone. We can blog, write articles, and post on Facebook or Instagram. Also, LinkedIn is a platform that’s basically built to foster networking.
By first engaging with our network (and our friend’s networks) through social media, it feels easier because it allows us to start off in the shadows instead of being thrust into the spotlight.
I routinely message individuals in and outside my network who are working on similar issues. It gives us something in common to discuss, and I follow up by sending articles or inviting them to speak further offline.
[Related: How to Thrive at Work as an Introvert]
Meet individuals one-on-one.
Introverts are at their best when they engage in deep and reflective conversations with another person. Ask people you want to connect with to meet you over coffee or lunch. I find face-to-face to be a lot more personable.
By engaging in one-on-one conversations, you’ll get to know the person on a deeper level and start off building a stronger relationship than if you had only spent ten to fifteen minutes with them. You’ll have time to engage in thought leadership and start discussing ways of how to work with one another. It feels more like building a friendship than just doing business.
Use warm introductions.
Cold calls are a thing of the past. Instead, tell your friends and acquaintances about what you do and ask them to make an introduction to a potential client, or someone who you might want to work with.
I shamelessly do this with my partner, who is extroverted and has a network of thousands of friends. Some of his warm introductions are through e-mail, while others are asking them to come out to dinner with us to meet me and learn about my work.
Keep in mind that utilizing these strategies requires time and patience. One-on-one conversations take more time than if you were to go to a single networking event.
This is why the follow up is crucial. We don’t want to lose the connections we’ve taken so long to build. Great ways of following up are sharing thanks, keeping them posted about your current status, or my personal favorite: paying it forward by asking how I can help them reach their goals.
[Related: The Crucial Step of Following Up]
Jessica Li is a social justice activist, an entrepreneur, a coach, and an advocate. She has worked in the social sector for almost fifteen years in senior leadership positions.
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Founder | Social Justice Activist
Justice & Logic
I’m a social justice activist, an entrepreneur, a coach, and an advocate. I've worked in the social sector for almost 15 years in senior leadership positions. My expertise focuses on ending gender based violence, creating long-lasting social impact, and promoting immigrant rights. I also support young people of color embrace their authentic selves and step into their full power. I work to bring diversity and equity to the social sector at the highest levels of leadership.... Continue Reading
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