Networking

Hate networking? Here are some tips

I recently had the opportunity to ask Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, for some tips for those in the TechRepublic membership who aren't comfortable with networking.

Devora Zack is the author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking.

Q: A lot of TechRepublic members consider themselves introverts, so networking for a job is really difficult for them. What are some of the "special techniques" you recommend for these people?

My book is really filled with a myriad techniques designed for introverts to network in sync with their natural strengths, rather than fighting against who they are. This is validating, energizing, and infinitely more productive for the 50% of the population who identify as introverts.

Until now, introverts have been hit over the head with a single set of rules for "successful networking" - rules that directly contradict the introvert's natural sensibilities. Seemingly, the only options are to behave falsely (an intolerable choice for an introvert) or to avoid networking altogether. Fortunately, now introverts can work with their strengths rather than assume they are doomed networkers.

The book offers techniques for numerous, typical networking situations - meetings and events, business travel, job searching, and so on. Here are a few samples:

Ask well-formed questions

Display a sincere interest in others. Inquiry into others' interests and backgrounds is a tremendous networking skill. People love when others display an interest in them, and introverts don't need to drum up ideas for typical, dull small talk. It is a brilliant networking strategy for introverts.

Do less

Prioritize your time, manage your energy. Shining bright at one event is smarter than straggling into every networking opportunity crossing your path. Grant yourself mini-recharge breaks at programs. Head outside for a breather, step away to refresh, decompress on a brisk walk, or check messages. Let go of what you should do; free yourself up to what appeals. You will be more appealing to others in the process.

Volunteer

Arrange in advance to help out. Many networking-haters are most comfortable when in a designated, structured role. Working the event provides you with a specific reason to engage with others, rather than poking around for small talk.

Get to events early

It is better to enter a room with a few people than one with a crowd packed close together. Gatherings are cozier near the beginning and participants more accessible.

Follow up

If you aren't following up, you aren't networking. The time you invest in networking is wasted without follow-up. Write a personal note within 48 hours, while you still remember each other. Be useful - include an article link, provide relevant information, or connect your new acquaintance with a valuable resource. Want to really stand out? Mail a handwritten note. Because introverts are frequently gifted writers, this is an opportunity to shine.

Network on your own terms

As a previous networking-hater myself, I know you can exceed your wildest networking expectations while having a great time in the process.

Q: You introduce a new term in your book--centrovert. What exactly is a centrovert?

Until now, we have been limited to two descriptors on the introvert-extrovert temperament continuum. This dichotomy neglects slight introverts and slight extroverts. Centroverts can relate nearly equally to both extremes of the spectrum. The term centrovert reminds us that personality types have infinite variations and few of us are on the extreme end. More specifically, it provides centroverts with a better understanding of their own strengths. Those in the middle can be made to think they are somehow weak or wishy-washy. Instead, they are in the best position to mediate, negotiate, and collaborate simply because they have an inherent understanding of different styles that is more challenging for the rest of us to develop.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

36 comments
ibrowej
ibrowej

Being an introvert myself, I can see where different methods need to be employed in order to achieve the same results as the extrovert. But, it is possible to succeed, in spite of the common stereotype given to the introvert. We definitely have our strong points. We just need to know how to recognize them and learn how to use them. Social skills will become more natural if you are persistent at practicing them. I also found some great free tips on networking at: http://relationshipcapital.co/op/?utm_src=bl

alanacates
alanacates

As an introvert who ranks on the lowest end of the scale, I would like to say that it would be lovely if the world were more balanced, that it was about what you know not who you know, but the extroverts are the ones speaking up and getting everyone to follow their opinions, while the other half (yes half) is pretty quiet about it all. Introversion is an orientation to ideas, instead of small talk. It is confused with shyness, which can go hand in hand, but is not always the case. I used to be shy, but I will always be an introvert. A tactic that has worked for me is to see the person I would like to network with as an idea in themselves, a unique idea that only they represent, with their unique experience, perspective and passion. Then I can engage with something -I mean someone - alarmingly interesting. Everyone has some unique genius and it's fun to find.

JosB
JosB

Recently I had an assessment. I had two practices at that assessment, both (partly) on delegation and expressing expectations. One written that was good, one in person that was bad. At the evaluation I told something similar as you, when I'm face to face with someone I don't know in a situation I am unfamiliar with I lose track on what to do. I notice what the other person does and expresses, but don't know how to respond to this. When I know the person or the situation this is far less of a problem to me. What I can tell you is that there are no right opportunities and there is no right environment. But you can create both. I'm going to give you some suggestions: - determine if this skill is important for your job. If so, speak with your boss about this. It can be that training budget is available. - ask for coaching in your company. This is something I'm most likely going to do. I get back to this. - move out of your comfort zone, but chose either familiar persons or familiar situations. I used to troubleshoot computerproblems (so I always had something to talk about) but after a while ended up chatting about all kinds of things. - express that you are not so confident. Many people will understand this, getting some pressure off you. - Find a new activity with people who encourage you but are critical at the same time. Perhaps an online group at first, since this cuts out the human interaction. I can give an example of my own life if you'd like. On coaching... I will be looking for a coach outside my own business unit. Why? Because it means we cannot talk about 'content'. We need to focus on other things instead. Like how to handle situations, how to prepare, how to deal with conflict or anxiety. And most important. Look at this as learning to walk. Make people understand that you are just started learning. They will know you will fall once in a while. But falling is not that much of a problem, it's part of learning to walk. Far more important is that you learn to stand up again and continue learning. Something little kids do without problem, but for some reason adults find very problematic....

Danarchy1
Danarchy1

I thought this was for computer networking. Silly me.

Englebert
Englebert

...even if it get's you nothing. At the very least, it will improve your social skills, communication, charm, smile, handing of business cards, hand shake, exchange of valuable information, connect on LinkedIn, discover commonalities....the list goes on.

JosB
JosB

"A lot of TechRepublic members consider themselves introverts ....." It's easy to make the mistake thinking social anxiety is the same as being introvert. As example, someone close to me is very easy in making contacts with others. Extravert? No, a real introvert. Contact drains energy, being alone gives energy back. You need to understand why you are avoiding social situations. Being introvert is not holding you back that much, being shy or social anxiety will hold you back far more.

Womble
Womble

is the grandfather of all these types of ideas. "How to win friends and influence people" from 1937 is still as relevant today http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influence_People Things like displaying a sincere interest in others and asking qustions are just as relevant today as they were back then. This does not dismiss the validity of the comments that are made, just note that there is a background to them

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Display a sincere interest in others." This is the hard part, since I'm not sincerely interested. I don't have a clue how to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, or how to gracefully end one. This Q&A appears oriented toward seminar or convention attendance. I don't go to many of these. There are few in my immediate area, and I don't perceive others as offering enough content to justify the travel expense. I feel uncomfortable asking for assistance from someone I've met only once or twice outside my normal workplace. (That's probably because I dislike being asked for assistance from those I've only met peripherally.)

Stalemate
Stalemate

"Because introverts are frequently gifted writers,..." Ah. This explains that. ;)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The first link, that I assume is to Devora's book, is broken.

Powe
Powe

Volunteer is the best thing introverts can do, but if they are real introverts how can they start volunteer if the organizers do not search for them widely? :))

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I may not have situations to implement all of these, but I may be able to work in some of them. I don't see this as essential to my current job, but I keep hearing that I shouldn't wait until it is. I hope I'm never in a position where it is essential. If I could ask for coaching, I'd already have more networking skills than I do now. Crawl, walk, run.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This discussion was spawned by a post to the 'Career Management' web log.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

assumes you can *be* sincere at the flip of a switch. I've met hundreds of salesmen who try hard but the smile and nodding head are just too mechanical. I can see through them like a Windex-cleaned window, and nothing turns me off faster. If the salesman's product interests me, I'll be attuned to him. Otherwise, he's wasting both our time and we'll both be glancing around, looking for an escape.

robo_dev
robo_dev

I used to teach the Dale Carnegie leadership and sales training courses, many moons ago. Everybody should read his book. While it has a few quaint things in it, since it was written a long time ago, he observed some universal truths about human nature that everybody can benefit from.

Brian Doe
Brian Doe

Especially about gracefully starting or ending conversations with a complete stranger, and asking for assistance.

mbennett
mbennett

There's nothing wrong with faking a sincere interest, since the people you're talking to are probably faking an interest in you at some level. I take it this is geared toward meeting people at a networking event, and there are plenty of them everywhere. This is actually the easy part since you don't run many risks. Ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that could happen if I walk up to the guy standing alone and introduce myself?" He'll probably be eternally grateful since he's probably in exactly the same spot you're in, trying to figure out why he came. Start by saying, "Hi. My name's Palmetto. What's yours?" Then repeat his name, which will help you remember it. After that, it's the old Why Where When What How stuff. What are you working on? How did you come to be at this meeting? I've been working on ___ and having a problem with ___. Have you done that and how did you solve it? Know anybody here who has worked on it? Remember, just asking the question doesn't obligate you. Ask then listen.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

If you don't like displaying a sincere interest in others, have you ever considered a carrier in politics or medicine?

robo_dev
robo_dev

people like to talk about what they do, and where they work. So at these events I read their name/company off their badge and ask them what they do for xxxx company? I don't really care about 'networking' per se, but it can be interesting just to hear other people's 'war stories' and learn something about what kinds of toys they get to play with, and/or what kind of idiots they work for, etc....

MaryWeilage
MaryWeilage

The link is fixed. Thanks for the note, Palmetto.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Joining a professional association -- most of us need to for educational or qualification reasons -- all you need to do is answer the "Would you like to volunteer?" question in the affirmative. Or go to a meeting and mention to the welcome desk staff that you'd like to volunteer. All you need to look like is bait to the sharks!

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Unless you are a totally self-centered jerk (which most introverts aren't) you already are interested in people. Don't think of it as "Why would I be interested in this person?" but rather "What about this person is interesting?" The point is that everyone you meet has something interesting about them -- it may take a long time to find but that's cool, the meeting isn't going to last forever. Your job is to find out what that interesting thing is. And introverts make great listeners.

robo_dev
robo_dev

I had a college room-mate who was a real _____. What he would do, is spot somebody's college T-shirt at bar, and then pretend to have gone there, to see how far he could run with it. "Oh, you went to UGA? Me too....you must know ..you know that totally crazy guy, I think his name was (mumble) Ralph....Bob..John....or..." "You mean Bob?" says the other person "you know crazy Bob?? Seriously?" "Well, almost got arrested with the crazy son-of-a _____, you know him too??? Wow, small world!" From there he would be best pals with a total stranger, would come up with the most insane stories of acts of debauchery committed by someone who does not exist, and it was fun to watch.

OCJim
OCJim

so is your spelling of 'career'!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That's a nasty, stinking, bloody field full of squishy bits and whining clients. And I haven't considered medicine either.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I have to fake it; most of the time I'm NOT interested. I don't care about your kids, your college team, your personal problems. I don't know how to steer the conversation to those topics I might care about, or to ones I feel comfortable responding to. I can listen, nod at appropriate intervals, mouth reassuring pablum, but actual interest? Rarely, and almost never at first contact.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

A line used to pickup women at bars. (tell me, does it work?)

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

I never said being fake was part of the equation. But you do have to have enough confidence in yourself that your true self is perfectly fine the way it is and whoever is ok with that will stay around you. Some will like you, some won't, in both business and recreation, and you can be satisfied by the ones that reciprocate your conversations. Of course, keeping the aforementioned finger out of nose and other social no-nos tucked away is a good start. I don't call that being fake, I call that being presentable. As far as the TR get-togethers, alcohol is not required (and shouldn't be). I didn't really do a lot of boozing myself because I'm not that kind of person, and I didn't do much more than the scheduled activities (besides hanging out on the porch) because I had other people in town and things to do and see. The boozy/innuendo crowd had their own activities, and they had their own fun, which is good for them. I played Louisville tourist, which is my kind of fun. You don't have to be fake or drink mass quantities to meet people and have fun.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't want to start a relationship by giving someone a false impression. I had an 'on' presentation I used in the National Guard. It was never appropriate outside that environment. I get so wrapped around how I'm presenting myself (responding to what the other person says, attempting to appear interested, keeping my fingers out of my nose) that I completely lose track of what he or she has said. It's like a point-and-shoot video game: I'm so busy responding to the current incoming fire that I can't tell you anything about the previous interactions. Whatever was last said gets dumped from RAM so I can respond to the current statement. Obviously practice would improve this, but I can't find opportunities or the right environment. It's like learning to drive in rush hour traffic instead of an empty mall parking lot. I've been to Louisville; I confined most of my participation to the 'official' activities. I spent most of the meals worrying about what to say, and avoided the unstructured 'after hours' get-togethers for the same reason. My dislike of alcohol probably contributed to that.

mpukey
mpukey

Very well said katedgrt. In fact, I couldn't say it better myself.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

I have managed to find a number of interesting people OUTSIDE of proper "networking" channels, simply because I did find something worthwhile to talk about. And some of those things have lead to profitable returns. Actually, now that I think about it, the designated "networking" meetings were good for vendor swag and little else, it's the relaxed circumstances that have yielded more. I didn't have to fake my interest in them because the circumstances we found ourselves in were enough to talk with them. Chatting on forum boards that have the participants meet up in June in Kentucky is a good start. ;)

katedgrt
katedgrt

But this is an area where the adage 'fake it till you make it' applies. What you are actually doing is not lying about your interest in the other person, but looking for something that interests you about them. This probe may take a little time and you have to be cordial and maybe even fake a smile over your nerves in the mean time, but there is almost always something interesting about people if you give them some of your time. One thing I have learned in my years of growing from full-on introvert to what the author calls a centrovert, is that you will never find out what you have in common with a person if you can't get past what you don't have in common. Our differences often 'stick out' more than our commonalities, just because of the sheer variety of people out there. But if you approach it with a sense of adventure and curiosity those very differences can be the thing that draws you together, and when you do find a common interest (often kids, sports, or work for me) it is even more revelatory if the other person didn't appear to be much like you at first. Two things have helped me immensely, and both are a product of my career path. One was teaching SQL to business clients for 5 years. The second was consulting, which I have been doing for about 6 years now. Both have given me exposure to a huge variety of technical and non-technical people and 'forced' me to interact with them. However, I think a change in my attitude from thinking of networking as searching for people that can help me to searching for people that I can help has had the biggest advantage. And that is where those differences become so valuable. What you know that they don't is your ticket in to leveraging what they know that you don't. And if you don't feel like lying, don't. You may not really care what part of town someone lives in, but that doesn't mean you are lying if you ask about it. I tend to think of it like character exposition in literature. It may not be terribly interesting to me to go through it but it can give you clues to find what you are looking for down the road.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

And the kind of behavior that makes me avoid networking in the first place. This is a classic example of everything I hate about the 'networking'. Bad enough your only interest in the other person is how you can exploit the relationship later. Lying to do it? That's politics.

j.walker
j.walker

This sounds a lot like Wedding Crashers to me

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

for the times he got found out? The fakers who give you a big s**t-eating grin, admit to being found out, and share the joke with you are rather charming rogues. It's the ones who act indignant and try to bluff their way back out that aren't worth the time talking to.