If you know me in person you might raise your eyebrows at the idea of me as an introvert, but here are a couple of quick things I’ll point out: if we have ever had a conversation at social function or at an event I organized, chances are good I tucked myself into a corner with you or sat down at your table almost like I was hiding out, and when you asked about how I was doing I told you the truth almost to the point of an overshare. I am not great at staying on the social level. I prefer conversations about feelings to conversations about most other things. I love planning events where people come together, and then there’s a big part of me that would be happy just to stay home and let everyone else connect. I am more comfortable performing then chatting with a bunch of people afterwards. And I need to schedule alone time in between meetings, and sometimes solo breaks during meetings, to recover.
Figuring out that I get my energy from being alone (introvert) but that I am driven by a the big value I put on connection and community helped me understand how these sometimes contradictory drives play out on my body, and then to to start to figure out tactics to cope and succeed. And yes even to network.
I stifle a flinch when I use the word network, I don’t know about you. I don’t like the way it’s usually used; too often it feels like making fake friends so you can use them, like a spider climbing up a web. Or it rings of a desperation bought and sold to people who are financially unstable: What you’re doing wrong is not enough networking! So pay to come to this networking event or buy this audio book on networking!
That said, here are my tactics for networking as an introvert. If you made it through the disclaimers above, then this idea already makes sense to you. For some reason you have to do it, and I’ve been there, and I feel for you, and here are my personal survivor tips, jotted down with mad love.
- Forget “contacts”: make one friend. You can defeat that bad, looking over each others shoulders for the most important person in the room vibe, by not playing that game. I tend to get to things early or right on time, and I look for other people who are nerdily punctual like me. I also look for people who, like me, are chilling on the edges. Ideally someone who seems to be fine on their own, unsure of why they ended up there, and whose clothes suggest they are quirky, thoughtful, totally oblivious to fashion, or totally playful with it. These weirdos are my people, and I humbly suggest you make them yours. They are, in my experience, some of the smartest people in the room. They are bad at networking and they think it’s funny that you are too. They are happy to have someone approach them, gently, and chat and laugh about how awkward networking is. I have met some crazy powerful people with this move, because unsurprisingly, very successful people do not need to work the room looking for something to prove.
- After you meet your new friend, listen to them. Ask them questions about their weekend, their lives, what brought them there, what they’re working on these days. Just listen and ask follow up questions. Remember, you are trying to make an actual friend, try to find things about them that surprise and inspire you, that are unexpected and beautiful, that connect with things you care about or that upend assumptions you have (we all have them.) Even if you never meet again you will have gained a little life-changing kernel of goodness from this upending, so your night won’t be a total waste of time.
- On that note, once you’ve made a connection and then maybe that person needs to circulate (or go home and hide under the bed) here’s what I suggest: go to the bathroom. I go to the bathroom a lot in big group settings because being alone even for a couple minutes lets my brain reset. After you leave the bathroom, do a lap of the room. Call it a victory lap, you made a connection! Champion. If you see people you know that you feel like saying hi to, say hi. If you feel like grabbing another drink and chatting with someone else who looks lonely and interesting, do it. If you feel like just walking up to a group of people and saying “hi, do you mind if I network with you?” Go for it. But you know what, if you don’t feel like doing any of those things and you just feel like going home, then darling go home. You made a deal with yourself at the beginning about one friend. Go home and add that person on some social networks of your choice and drop them an authentic follow up line and you will have done something small that is wonderful and huge.
Strong communities are not built by shaking a thousand hands. They are built one real relationship at a time, and real relationships happen between people who try to be honest about who they are. Be real about what scares and challenges and inspires you and you’ll still be alone, because we all are, but you might also see yourself reflected in new ways in the eyes of lonely others and it might help us as we float along… lonely, but together.