Don’t you just love entering an entire room full of strangers?
I sure as hell don’t. My ideal Friday night involves a pair of fuzzy socks, a scented candle, a great book, and a cup of my favorite English Breakfast tea (with a splash of milk and two sugars, please)…..all to be savored alone.
And frankly, one of the reasons why I accepted this gig is so that I wouldn’t have to make small talk with people in a cubicle all day. (I do like bantering with my colleagues on Skype, though.)
Most of us telecommuters are introverts. We find solace in solitude, prefer one-on-one interactions to big gatherings, and find the prospect of networking simultaneously terrifying and draining. Sound familiar? Relatable? Welcome to the club.
Unfortunately, building a network (or a community, if you prefer) remains critical to furthering your business or career. How else would you find a good mentor, obtain new clients, or connect with suppliers, right?
The good news is that we don’t have to cede all networking ground over to the extroverts by default. There are certain steps we can take to overcome our natural reticence, plus ways in which we can leverage our built-in advantages as well.
- Take baby steps.
- Sign up for events.
- Manage expectations.
- Be ready with open-ended questions.
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be daunting. Do it too abruptly, and you might end up scampering back into your introvert hidey-hole, never to be heard from again.
So, pace yourself. Start with striking up a conversation with the barista at your favorite coffee shop. Wave hello to your neighbor. Muster up the nerve to call up (not text) a friend you’ve been missing.
After you hit your stride, escalate. For instance, you can set some networking goals each month. Reaching out to three people you don’t know is a good start, especially if you happen to admire their work.
Admittedly, we introverts need a bit more help when it comes to meeting people. Events are ideal for this purpose since they attract people with a common interest or purpose.
Social media is a gold mine for events. Scroll down your feed for any upcoming ones you might be interested in, or join any special-interest groups that are relevant to you. Workshops and seminars are also ideal for meeting people with similar minds and goals.
Don’t psyche yourself more than you need to. You really don’t have to wow everyone with your jokes, nor leave the event with 20 calling cards in your pocket. Making one or two meaningful connections should be more than enough.
Don’t like small talk? You can actually use that to your advantage.
Once you dispense with the pleasantries, initiate a good conversation with a few insightful questions, such as:
- What do you like best about your job?
- Any big challenges coming down the line for you?
- What are you most excited about at the moment?
This is where being an introvert can come in handy. You see, most extroverts are talkers. They can and will spend all day talking about themselves. While that can be a captivating trait, empathetic listening isn’t something to underestimate either.
And guess what? Introverts are typically fully-engaged and fantastic listeners. Lean into that, and you’ll come across as a person who values others, making it easier for them to connect with you.
Is there someone you’ve always wanted to meet, but are too shy to approach directly? Get one of your common friends or acquaintances to make the introduction.
Alternatively, you can invoke the magic of LinkedIn to find someone who can if you haven’t got any mutual contacts. Asking one of the event organizers to introduce you also helps.
In other words, don’t force yourself to become an extrovert. Being an introvert comes with a lot of strengths. These include heightened abilities for introspection and observation, superb listening skills, and the capacity for making profound connections.
All of these things make you a unique force to reckon with, so think about that whenever you need more confidence.
As a final note, don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately get the hang of things. Real, lasting improvements, much like real, lasting relationships, take considerable investments of time and effort.
You will get there eventually, and who knows? You might even find yourself enjoying the process.