I hate networking events. A roomful of people who I am obligated to exchange small talk with? Not my idea of fun. Why? Because I’m an introvert. But I’m also a journalist, and networking events interacting with people on a professional level are part of my job. Having good connections makes my work easier and more interesting. I’ve developed a lot of personal networking hacks, but I wanted to find out if my approach is psychologically sound, so I asked some pros to chime in on how to network when you're an introvert.
First, let’s identify what exactly an introvert is, because when I tell people that I am one, they’re usually surprised. “But you’re not shy at all,” they say. Nope. I’m not socially awkward either. Those are traits that aren’t always inherent to introverts.
“When psychologists talk about introversion and extroversion, we’re talking specifically about where people draw their energy,” says Heather Lyons, a Baltimore-based psychotherapist, who tells me that people often conflate introversion with social anxiety. “Extroverted people are energized by relationships whereas introverts recharge by spending time alone.” Introverts can be charismatic as hell, and great with people — take classic introverts, Oprah and Barack Obama — but generally find socializing with other people tiring.
“Some introverts are shy but you can’t make that assumption,” Lyons tells Mic. Basically, being an introvert means that chilling out probably means spending time alone, but it doesn’t mean that we want to be alone all the time.
Introverts are also often excellent listeners and are more likely to have deeper and more meaningful interactions with people, says Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. While introverts can and do make meaningful social connections with people, small talk and shmoozing can be challenging and downright exhausting. Here are a few ways that introverts can network effectively while playing to their natural strengths.
A full 70% of employers check out your social media when they’re considering you for a job. That feels a little Black Mirror, but there are ways that introverts can use online lurking culture in their favor. “Online networking is easier for a lot of introverted people,” says Aimee Daramus, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist. Why? It’s less draining for folks who recharge alone to connect with a buffer zone (the internet). It can also be a lot easier to get a hold of people online than in person, so it can widen your social circles in advantageous ways. If, for example, you want to connect with someone outside your orbit who you probably wouldn’t run into at an event, you can Tweet at them. If they respond, follow up with a DM.
Online networking can be done in the privacy of your own home with a cat on your lap, which is cozy, but the distance also allows introverts to use some of their natural skill set. “Introverts do best when they plan, write, and think through what they want to say,” says Lisa Orbé-Austin, New York-based psychologist and career coach. Connecting with people on the internet allows you to do all that back end work without anyone noticing. You can even use a script or notes when you’re virtually interacting with someone and they won’t be aware.
Also, online networking isn’t just text-based, anymore. Introverts, who might not be likely to throw a publicity event, can still use tools like IGTV to spread the work about their project or foster interpersonal relationships.
Inviting people to meet one-on-one shows them that you’re invested in them and their work, as individuals. It also gives introverts an opportunity to shine, albeit in a quiet and safe way.
You can also use online interactions as a way to prep for events. “You can set some groundwork on the web, by getting to know networking prospects by email, FB, or Twitter,” says Daramus. “Start a conversation in their comments. Help them out be retweeting or re-posting something of theirs to get things going. Then suggest [connecting] at the event.” You will feel more comfortable talking to someone you have already kindled a relationship with and they will, too.
“One of the strengths of introverts is one-on-one engagement,” says Orbé-Austin. “So, if you are looking to network, you are likely going to feel at your best in individual networking meetings.” The drawback of one-on-one networking is that, as opposed to organized networking events, you are going to have to create an opportunity for yourself. The up-side is that most introverts are comfortable showing interest in others. “If you want to network with someone, ask for their advice in a way that benefits them, like asking them to speak, guest-blog, or write something,” says Daramus. Then meet for coffee to discuss.
Inviting people to meet one-on-one shows them that you’re invested in them and their work as individuals. It also gives introverts an opportunity to shine, albeit in a quiet and safe way. “People in conversations rate their impressions of others more favorable when they themselves do most of the talking,” Lyons says. “For that reason, introverts should do what they do best and use their curiosity about others as an asset. Their willingness to listen and even allow silence, at times, makes space for their speaking partners.” Making someone feel heard and seen is a great way to forge a long-lasting collaboration. The active listening that comes naturally to introverts “is every bit as important — if not more — so that being an entertaining extrovert,” says Saltz.
Make a step-by-step plan for a networking event
Sometimes you have to go to a work party or a networking event. The first thing you have to do is stop thinking about it as something to avoid and start thinking about it as a chance to use your introvert superpowers on the extrovert playing field. There are more extroverts in the world, and folks have a tendency to be socially biased in their favor, so you’re going to have to get used to it.
As an introvert, you’re going to want to prepare for a network event by doing more than making sure your outfit is on point. Plan your day so that you have time to yourself before and after. “If you have to do the big networking party, try to have a light day first so you’re emotionally well-rested,” says Daramus. Afterwards, “do something that fills your tank," adds Orbé-Austin. "You want to make sure that you keep going to the networking engagements and don't feel a lot of negativity afterwards.”
You can also prep for the event with a script, which can be used more as a blueprint for conversation this time around. “Write down your key talking points,” Orbé-Austin says. “Practice these responses and talking points so it doesn't feel scripted. Although you want to prepare, you don't want it to sound robotic or stiff.”.
So, contrary to popular belief, we can network successfully and benefit others like us. “The skills of introverts can actually help other introverts succeed in social situations. Extroverts often need to talk to think through an idea, but introverts need to think first and then speak. The introverts’ approach to conversation often reads as generous and empathic,” says Lyons. “So you don’t have to feel weird about your different approach to conversation, it creates a complementary situation.”