Networking for Introverts

This article is for you, an introvert, who has a business or a mission that you need to get the word out about, but find networking exhausting.

Specifically, I’m talking about, as an introvert, how to network with extroverts.

Many introverts I’ve talked with don’t have trouble networking with other introverts. There’s just that happy moment of recognition “oh, you’re an introvert too” and then we go off to a quiet corner and easily have a deep conversation with no difficulty communicating whatever useful information we might exchange, including whatever products or services etc. we might offer.

Naturally as an introvert you can also be shy, or feel awkward, or feel like you’re out of your depth, or have stage fright, and so on. But so can extroverts. Introversion has nothing to do with being “shy”, introverts and extroverts can be shy and introverts and extroverts can be non-shy.

I am super-duper introverted. At a conference, my idea of what makes a nice break is to go find an empty corridor and wander alone in complete silence. People say, “wow, you’re one of the most introverted people I’ve ever met”.

I am however not shy. When I feel like it I’ll go out to an art festival with a dragon on my shoulder wearing my Isis Wings (a belly dance accessory) and give away hundreds of hugs. People sometimes ask, “so do you ever speak?”, and I blink and say, “um, sure, when I have something to say…”, but shyness is not an issue.

Introversion isn’t about being non-social. Introverts aren’t “less social” than extroverts. We just like a different kind of social interaction. When introverts say, “we don’t like social situations”, what we really mean is that we don’t like social situations designed for extroverts.

I don’t know if this is true for all introverts, but for me my introversion has a lot to do with a desire to be able to focus. I’m completely happy being alone with my thoughts, because I get to focus on my thoughts. I like one-on-one conversations because I get to focus on the conversation. What I don’t like, what I find exhausting, is random chit-chat where my focus is being constantly redirected but we never get deep into anything in particular.

Many actors are introverted. This is surprising if you think of introversion as not wanting to relate to other people. But actors have a role they can focus on. Sure, of course actors can also get stage fright and so on. But from an introverted point of view, for someone who likes acting, acting is great because it answers the question: “what can I focus on?” Focus on the role. And then the rehearsal or performance is over, spend some time alone or whatever you need to recharge.

I find it helpful when I have a role I can play in a social situation. For example, if I’m selling tickets at an event, I don’t mind interacting with hundreds of people. What am I doing? I’m selling tickets. And if someone wants to chit-chat with me about meaningless things, I can either decide to talk with them if I want to, or I say, “sorry, I’m selling tickets”.

Giving away hugs is another role to play. I offer people a choice: they can hug me if they want to (and if they aren’t smoking, abusive, wearing a jacket with spikes, etc). Or, of course, they don’t have to hug the weird hug guy if they don’t want to. But I’m not offering to “socialize” in the sense of “oh yes, let’s stand around chatting about sports and politics” with hundreds of people.

The trick that works for me is that I can make up a role. No one else needs to know about it. It can be completely internal, just a role that I’m playing in my head.

So when I’m networking, I can be playing the role of networking with people. I can ask people if they’d like to hear about my services. Or I can ask if they’d like to tell me about their problems and see if I know of any solutions, which then might include my own services, or might just be something I know about.

And if the answer is “no”, they’d rather chat about politics or whatever, I can move on. Because that’s not the role I’m playing.

Likewise if I’m offered an opportunity to “socialize”, as in “let’s go out to a restaurant where you’ll be stuck for an hour or so with a bunch of people chit-chatting with no one to have a real conversation with”, I can decline. That’s not part of the role.

Some people on occasion might not like the role. (“Oh you should come out to dinner with us!”) But that’s OK. It doesn’t matter how great the actor is, there will be someone who doesn’t like the performance.

Here’s a secret. Introverts are actually better at networking than extroverts are. No, really. Sure, extroverts easily talk with lots of people and find out what sports team they like and so on. But introverts know how to listen. Unless it’s blindingly obvious how your service will help someone, they need to have that conversation where they’re heard, and understood, and understand how the service can help them in particular.

And that’s something introverts can do.

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