How to Network: More Tips for Shy People

Introverts are often better at networking than most people think. In fact, their perceived weaknesses may actually be great strengths when it comes to forging new and lasting professional connections.

Tue, March 22, 2011

CIO — If you're shy, you might think you're no good at networking. After all, the crowds, small talk and forced merriment associated with industry events and career fairs can downright drain an introvert.

In fact, says Devora Zack, president of Only Connect Consulting and author of Networking For People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide For Introverts, The Overwhelmed, and The Underconnected (Berrett-Koehler/ASTD Press), shy types can be better at networking than their more inherently outgoing counterparts (extroverts), and are often better at making new connections than they think.

"There are people who might love networking, who may be good at making small talk and working a room, but who might not necessarily be good at it," says Zack. "If they don't follow up on those conversations the next day, they're not making meaningful, lasting connections. Real networking is about creating meaningful, mutually beneficial connections, one person at a time."

Such a slower, more deliberate (and some might argue more genuine) approach to networking is easier for and more appealing to introverts than racing around a convention center gathering as many business cards as possible. But because networking is often cast as a numbers game, where quantity of connections trumps quality, introverts who employ a higher touch approach often feel that they're not working hard enough or making enough connections.

Fear not, introverts. Zack contends that a good professional network emphasizes the quality of contacts over quantity.

"To be a great networker, most of us need to go to fewer events and talk to fewer people," she says.

Here, Zack offers a three-step approach to networking, plus several other tips, that take advantage of introverts' inherent strengths.

Your "Weaknesses" Are Your Strengths

Conventional networking wisdom sends the message that being shy means you won't be good at networking because you need to talk to people to network.

On the contrary, listening is as important as talking when it comes to networking, and introverts tend to be better listeners than the extroverts who run at the mouth, notes Zack.

"Introverts go deep. They like deeper connections and they think [in order] to talk, whereas extroverts talk to think," says Zack. "If you accept that fact rather than force yourself to make small talk, it probably means you're good at asking questions and a good listener. So instead of talking about yourself, you'll ask people about themselves, and because you go deep, you learn more about the people you engage with."

Another strength possessed by introverts: "They tend to follow-up on things other people tell them about themselves, rather than asking for something," says Zack.

Follow-up is a critical part of networking because it cements new relationships. "If you're not following up, you're not networking," says Zack. "If you're going to an event to make connections, nothing is going to happen unless you follow up. It's easy to follow up if you only meet three people, and that's often the case with introverts."

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