Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Networking Tips for Introverts

From my profile:

Do you have any tips for professional networking as an awkward introvert?

Well... let me start off by saying that I haven't had a lot of opportunities to practice this, thanks to a lot of working from home or nonsocial jobs. So I'm not particularly good at it. But I would like to address this, so what I've done here is done a little Internet research, found other similar articles, discovered advice I would give myself, and presented it here for you with my own spin on it. So I can't necessarily verify that this works all the time, but a lot of these principles apply to social interaction in general, so they should transfer fairly well to the workplace.

Shepton Mallet Christmas Party 2012-59 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Niki Odolphie, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
1. Schedule prep time and downtime at any networking events.

Yup, this sounds about right. I know I'm no good to anybody when I'm overpeopled or stressed, so just like I would for any other big social event, I need to plan for some quiet time, whether that means mapping out time before and after to veg or planning strategic trips to the bathroom to hide throughout.

You can also determine beforehand how long you're going to stay. If things go well, you can extend that time, but I'd suggest that you commit to staying at least 20-30 minutes. Often the first few minutes are the most uncomfortable, and if you leave 30 minutes in, that gives you time to meet one new person or have a conversation with an acquaintance. Measuring it in goals is good too. Sometimes I've gone to social events where I tell myself I can leave as soon as I've had at least five brief conversations with new people. That way, I push myself to accomplish my goals and don't risk standing in the back talking to no one for 30 minutes and then giving up.

2. Start small.

I've found that a lot of introverts have a tendency to be all-or-nothing at work. Either you never talk to anyone ever and are the hermit in the corner, or you go out of your way to talk and chat with everyone because you feel you should, and you come home more stressed than ever. I read an article recently that those who typically go out to eat for lunch should consider spending one or two lunch breaks a week in the workplace for networking purposes with your co-workers. This is an attainable goal. It could be awkward or uncomfortable at first, but it's not impossible, and it strikes a workable balance between hermit and social butterfly.

3. Have some conversation starters in your back pocket.

This is good social advice in general. For those of us who dislike small talk, we may not practice it enough to actually, you know, be okay at it. So keep an eye out for some good icebreakers, and keep the ones that work with you. This site suggests "What is your favorite part of your job?" which is a great one for introverts -- it's not just communicating mindless or uninteresting facts. It's a question that will actually reveal the personality and passions of the person you're talking to.

WWW_D3_Mingle-35 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 worldwaterweek, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
4. Take advantage of your strengths.

Introverts may not like mingling, but once they get into conversations, they can come across very different than they feel -- particularly because introverts are often very good listeners. Take advantage of that! If you can get someone talking about themselves, you can just sit back, listen, display interest, and occasionally ask questions, and while you may feel like you didn't do anything, the person you're talking to may leave thinking positively of you because your attentive listening felt so validating. Of course, if the other person isn't talking much, share some personal stories of your own -- you don't want it to feel like you're interrogating them for information -- but you'll be surprised how often you can just get the ball rolling and then pay attention to it while it does all the hard work.

While for some of us (including me) it can feel awkward or difficult to mix professional situations with social situations, it can definitely work to your advantage. So it's worth it for us to practice these skills and become so awesome at them that nobody else even knows we're uncomfortable. Magic!

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