Introvert’s guide to networking

First of all, whatever you do, don’t listen to the tips from extroverts

Getty Images/ Illustration by Taylor Shute

“Remember when networking was fun and effective? No, me neither,” writes Rachel Lam, a vice-president with Time Warner Investments, in her endorsement of a new book called Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed and the Underconnected.

The book’s author, Devora Zack, is a self-confessed introvert who’s easily drained by too much social interaction. In spite of this, she runs a successful business consulting for clients such as the Smithsonian Institution. She also teaches networking seminars. “What’s that you’re mumbling? You don’t like networking and have no interest anyway? You don’t have time? You don’t need to? It’s phony, superficial, manipulative and conniving. Hold it right there,” she writes. “Networking allows you to achieve your potential. Perhaps you want to find a new job, achieve a promotion, make a new professional or personal contact, improve the world, expand your influence, sell a product, write a book, seal a deal. Networking will further your aim.” What’s at stake if you don’t network? “Only whatever you most want to accomplish in your life. No biggie.”

Her first piece of advice to those wanting a change in career, or to get ahead in business, is: don’t listen to extroverts who offer their networking tips. “An extrovert’s recommendations may include acquiring lots of contacts, meeting as many people as possible, and filling your calendar with events. An introvert who foolishly attempts to follow this will drop from exhaustion in two weeks.”

The book starts with a reminder to introverts that they process the world differently. Whereas extroverts tend to discover “what they think by discussing their ideas,” introverts process by reflecting and thinking through, even writing down ideas. They shy away from meeting strangers. “If you don’t have the gift for chatter,” she writes, “focus on what you do have, a predisposition to watch and gather data. Tap into your high level of focus, combine deep listening with well-formed questions, and you need never be at a loss for conversation.”

At business functions, get in line, she advises. A lineup to the bar or food table “provides a fine alternative to standing around alone.” Then turn to a fellow line-mate and inquire about their work. She also suggests volunteering at events whenever possible: “Working the event provides you with a specific reason to engage with others, rather than poking around for small talk.”

At events, refresh yourself with a few minutes of alone time. Excuse yourself from the conversation by saying, “I promised myself I’d circulate—I’d better walk around.” Then have an escape plan for leaving early before you burn out. “If you are tied into other people’s schedules, find a place to wait while they finish up. You are not at your best when you overstay your capacity to be ‘on.’ ”

End all conversations gracefully, never letting them fizzle out past their prime. “You also want to avoid making others feel trapped talking with you.” Say, “May I have your card? It was great meeting you. I look forward to following up.”

On business trips, when invited to join colleagues for “unscheduled spontaneous social time,” Zack advises keeping your excuses short. “Less is more. Repeat after me: ‘Thanks, but I’m going to take it easy tonight.’ No elaborate explanation or apology required, allowing others to poke holes in your reasoning.” Don’t say: “I need my sleep,” to which someone can respond, “You can sleep on the plane tomorrow” or “I’m sure we’ll be back by 10.”

Whereas extroverts dazzle with light banter, introverts excel in the aftermath of meetings and events with thoughtful follow-up. Focus on one or two people you’d like to keep in touch with, and send a personalized note via actual mail, referencing something they said from your introductory conversation. Or, if it’s an email, send an article or link relevant to your conversation. “Being thoughtful is better than just sending information about yourself, which can be perceived as too aggressive,” says Zack. “You’ll make a smashing second impression.”

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