I’ve never been good at networking. I’m usually standing in the corner talking with a friend at parties, if I’m at a party at all. I get worn out from being around people and need my alone time to recharge.
There’s a certain efficiency in the glad-handing ways of a freshly-minted MBA because knowing the right people is in large part a numbers game. But to an introvert relating to people in that way isn’t just uncomfortable, it seems morally repugnant. The introvert aspires to treat people as ends themselves and not as a means to feed the ego or further our careers.
The problem is that not networking, bluntly, means stunting your career and financial prospects. Not networking may sound noble to you, but all that it amounts to is a litany of missed opportunities.
Not to worry, networking doesn’t mean changing who you are, 95% of it is in your mindset and approach to it. Here are 3 practical mindsets that’ll empower you not just to network, but to make you successful at it.
1. Don’t think of it as networking
One of the biggest mistakes that an introvert can make about networking is to think of it as networking. That’s because, by definition, introverts and networking are enemies.
We see glad-handing MBAs and we see what we don’t want to be—someone who doesn’t care about the people they’re talking to, and someone that’s looking over your shoulder for the more important people in the room.
So don’t think of what you’re doing as networking, think of it as attempting to connect with another person in a meaningful way. Choose a mindset that’s not limiting, but empowering, and you’ll make connecting with others effective on your own terms. You can be yourself — a good, stand-up person — and still effectively network.
2. Do it to support others, not to aggrandize yourself
Studies have shown that women ask for more in negotiation when they negotiate on behalf of others as advocates versus negotiating for themselves. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that women’s average “ask” was 23% higher when they were representing others rather than themselves.
The reason why advocating for others helps women ask for more in negotiation is the same reason why it can help introverts network. It helps introverts step outside of themselves and the restrictive definition of networking as selfish, pointless, and superficial.
To work up the moxie to schmooze, I remind myself that my whole team is counting on me and part of my role as “everything-else” guy at the company is to schmooze.
The subtle yet powerful twist on all of this is that self-promotion through the promotion of others is one of the most effective way for anyone to network. As Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People put it, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Making introductions, being sure to ask, “How can I help you?”, tweeting about ideas, trends, and other companies important to your customers, using other entrepreneurs’ products and giving feedback, and more—these behaviors are empowering and can actually make introverts better networkers than extroverts.
3. Treat everyone the same
The most effective way to talk to a particular person in a bar is to talk to everyone in the bar. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, and it’s all in the approach — “I’m not a creeper, I’m a nice person who gets along with everyone.” Project that mindset outwards and it becomes visible for all to see.
It’s anathema for introverts to treat someone better because they’re rich or have high status. Rather, treat everyone the same, and that will empower you to treat well-connected higher-ups merely the same as you treat everyone else.
What this mental trick does is that it turns an unnatural act like networking into the easily repeatable process of just being yourself.
Oh, @kr8tr will love @idonethis — it asks you to tell it every day what you got done. Makes weekly reports to bosses much easier!
— Robert Scoble (@Scobleizer) June 20, 2011
When I was at a rest stop along I-5 and I saw Bob Scoble making conversation with my cousin, I approached them and joined the conversation, because that’s just what I do — I’m a nice guy. And Bob tweeted about us later, because that’s what he does — he’s a nice guy. We got hundreds of signups in the days that followed.
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