For the vast majority of people, networking is uncomfortable. Only a rare few folks are natural networkers. The rest of us have to work at it. This can be especially difficult for those who identify as introverts—myself included. However, with a few simple mindset shifts, anyone can learn to be a successful networker, regardless of your natural inclinations. The following strategies will help make networking for introverts more comfortable and more authentic.
Are You a True Introvert?
Introverts are commonly misunderstood. Often, people think being introverted means you’re socially awkward, shy, or disinterested in relationships, but that’s not the case. Far from it, in fact! Many introverts may even appear to be natural socializers. The difference between them and their extroverted colleagues simply has to do with how they replenish their energy.
Think of it this way: Each of us has a battery of energy inside. For extroverts, that battery is recharged by being around people. For introverts, their battery is recharged by solitude. Networking for introverts is, therefore, naturally more draining. While they may be personable and friendly, they will begin to feel mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted after a period of time, while extroverts will only feel more energized and invigorated. Introverts may be no less interested in developing relationships and meeting new people, but they simply find it more tiring.
Networking for introverts is, naturally, more difficult. But it’s still a career necessity. So how do you do it without wearing yourself out completely? Here are some strategies to consider.
Don’t Get Down on Yourself
First and foremost, stop comparing yourself to everyone else. If you’re watching extroverts and wondering why you just can’t keep up, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you or that you’re inherently “bad” at this whole networking thing. You’re just different—and that’s okay. In all likelihood, you’re probably surrounded by a ton of people who are just like you. Don’t get wrapped up in negative self-talk or beliefs that you should be something different than your own, authentic self.
Give Yourself the Time You Need
Whether you’re attending a multi-day conference or an afternoon company picnic, recognize that you have control over how you spend your time. You do not have to follow the set agenda. You can stay for as long as you want, and you can leave when it feels right for you.
As a public speaker, I go to many large-scale events with a lot of networking time built in. Additionally, I am often recognized by attendees who want to chat and get to know me. It’s an honor and I thoroughly enjoy this part of the gig. But, as an introvert, I also find it exhausting. This is why I am very protective of my time. I want to get the most out of my networking, and that will only happen if I do it in short bursts. In between, I need to go to my hotel room and be alone to recharge. I have learned over the years that I do not have to accept every invitation for dinner and I do not have to feel guilty when I’m ready to leave an event.
When you respect your personal boundaries, you’ll be in better shape to give it your all while you’re there. You can truly focus on networking, knowing that you will get the recharge time you need.
Reach Out Ahead of Time
If you’re uncomfortable mingling with strangers (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), you can try making initial contact with people ahead of a scheduled networking event. For example, if you’re going to a meeting of your professional association, check the registration or review the list of chapter members and send out a few emails (or find them on LinkedIn). Let people know you’re coming to the meeting and are excited to meet them. With any luck, you’ll build a little rapport through email, which will make meeting in-person much more comfortable. Additionally, once you do this, these people will be on the lookout for you at the event. They will already know your name and seeing you will be like meeting a long-lost friend.
Plan a Few Conversation Points
One of the most difficult parts of networking for introverts is the mental exhaustion that comes with carrying on so many different conversations. To help ease this, consider planning a few key conversation points ahead of time. That way, you won’t find yourself at a loss, scrambling to fill the silence with something off the top of your head. Instead, you can simply fall back on things that keep the conversation moving forward and don’t take a lot of thought to come up with.
Whatever your natural style, you can become a proficient networker. Remember: As an introvert, you might have to put a little more thought into how you do it, but you are just as personable as anyone else. Networking for introverts is always a little uncomfortable—for everyone. Just do it in the way that works for you and be authentic. That’s the best way to build powerful professional relationships.