If dogs were all I needed to network with, I would be set. With their warm coats, lovable demeanor, and innate understanding of humans, it’s easy for me to run up to any dog I see while I’m out on the town and greet them as if I’ve known them all my life.
Unfortunately, that’s not how life works. In order to develop your inner circle, your professional contacts, as well as get ahead in your career, networking with others is a crucial, constant task to accomplish in your daily life.
As an introvert, it takes getting out of my comfort zone every time I try to get to know someone else. Whenever I see an opportunity to connect with someone, my palms start to sweat, my heart races, and my mouth gets dry. It never fails.
If you experience any of the things I just described, or something similar, it’s okay! You are not alone in this. The ability to network, like other skills, is something that can be developed. Here are some things you can do to improve your networking skills.
- Be aware of nonverbal communication
Whenever I get caught in my own thoughts, it’s so easy for me to forget my body language. Be aware of your nonverbal communication! People gather information about others in such a quick manner, and most of that information comes from nonverbal cues.
The way I address my nonverbal communication is to be actively aware of the message I am sending. Some questions I’ll ask myself would be:
- What am I saying with my facial expressions?
- Am I slouching?
- Am I crossing my arms?
Addressing these questions will help with your nonverbal communication.
As an example, If I am new to a job, I’ll make sure to have a smile on my face, position myself so that I am not slouching (such as in a chair or standing) as well as not crossing my arms.
If I’m not paying attention to my facial expressions, sometimes I can come across as being not very approachable. This can hinder my networking opportunities, so I make time to be aware of the message I am sending in this way.
Slouching usually sends a message of not being interested in what’s going on, so watch out for it!
The reason you don’t want to cross your arms while networking is that it creates a perceived barrier between you and the person you’re talking to. We don’t want barriers when networking! It’s important to show that you’re open to communicating with others.
2. Look for the right moments to engage in a conversation
This is a huge networking problem for me. Imagine you’re joining a group mid conversation. The discussion interests you, and you want to contribute. Or, the conversation doesn’t interest you, but if you don’t contribute, then you’ll feel like the quiet person of the group who doesn’t add to the conversation.
In either case, finding the right time to jump into the conversation can be tricky as an introvert. For me, I always sit on the border of wanting to wait until an opening comes up, but also not wanting to miss out on giving my input. I’ve missed out on so many conversations in my life because I waited until it was too late.
Especially in a group setting where there’s obvious extroverts excited to share, how do you engage in the conversation?
- Look out for side conversations
If you’re the kind of person that shutters when thinking about speaking up in a group conversation, look out for smaller side conversations within the group you’re with.
When you hear someone speaking up, but not quite loud enough that it gets picked up by the whole group, try to make eye contact with the person and build on what they were saying. The eye contact part is important here because it creates a connection between you and the other person to start talking. Throw in a smile and genuine interest, and you’re on your way to building your network!
On the flip side, it’s okay if you share your input out loud, and the whole group doesn’t hear it. It’s practice, and you’re actively working on networking! There’s a strong chance that someone will hear and engage in a side conversation with you.
- Use a person’s name before sharing
This can be helpful if someone is taking control of the conversation. If you have something to add, say the person’s name and make eye contact with them before you talk. This can give you the space to contribute to the conversation.
3. Use your skills to your advantage
I haven’t always been very good at small talk. However, I’ve been a stellar listener for as long as I can remember. When networking, I always make it a point to remember something specific about the person I’m talking to, and I’ll try to incorporate it into a conversation we have later on.
A while back, a coworker and I were talking about vacation. He was telling me about his plans for his vacation. I made sure to ask questions to show I was interested, and it allowed him to talk in the conversation more than me, which is usually where I’m most comfortable.
Flash forward to when he returned from his vacation, and I made it a point to ask about it. I brought up specifics to show I was listening before, and he was happy to share. Now, we talk about things we want to do on our vacations all the time!
If talking is not your strong point, don’t worry! You have many other strengths that you can lean on when networking with others. Think about your skill set, and try to incorporate it into conversations with others. Skills like empathy, team work, positive attitude, trust, and creativity are just a few examples of skills you can use.
3. Preparation is key!
Like many things in life, preparation is a big component to networking success for introverts. If I didn’t prepare a few questions or have a goal in mind for when I was networking, I would stumble with my words, feel awkward, and not make a good impression.
Practice what you want to say in networking situations. Have questions ready in your head. Doing this will allow the conversation to take off, and you can guide the conversation based on the responses. Having that buffer of questions in your head ready to go can go a long way in developing your networking skills.
4. Send a follow up email
This is important in a work setting. If you successfully network with someone, and you get their contact information, send a follow up email thanking them for their time. Say something specific about the meeting and keep the line of communication open between the two of you. This can go a way in maintaining the connection for the next time you meet with them.
5. Be true to yourself
As an introvert, it’s exhausting to be the center of attention and talk for any extended period of time. I need a decompress day just to recover. This holds especially true for when I try to be someone else to build my network.
Conversations are so much easier when there’s things in common between the people talking, isn’t it? If you’re trying to network with someone, it can be so easy to jump on the first thing the reveal they’re interested in or like to talk about. If you do not share the same interest, it’s important to refrain from expressing interest in it as well.
For example, if your boss says to you that his favorite hobby is watching baseball games, but you have no interest in baseball, you wouldn’t want to tell him that baseball is your favorite sport and you’ve been playing it since you were a child.
Instead, having a follow up question ready for this situation would put you in a better position to build the relationship for the long term. Some follow up questions to something that doesn’t quite interest you would be:
- I’m not very familiar with that. What would be some important things to know?
- What’s your favorite thing about it?
- How long have you been involved with it?
Having a follow up question ready will enable you to keep the conversation going, and it allows the person you’re with to talk about something they’re interested in.
Tip: It’s easier to talk about something you’re interested in as opposed to something you’re not. This holds true to the people you’re talking with as well.
You do not have to share all the same interests as the people you’re networking with, but chances are you have more in common than you think.
In being true to yourself, when you’re talking with others, you can casually add your interests into conversations to see if they have the same interests.
For example, if someone asks you what you did last weekend, that would be a perfect and low risk time to share an interest you have. If you went to a concert or festival you enjoyed, or even played video games, you can put that alongside other things such as relaxing or running errands.
If the other person shares a similar interest, they’ll keep the conversation going. If not, it’s okay! You’re being true to yourself, and you’re working on your networking skills.
Networking as an introvert can induce a lot of stress and cause anxiety. In this blog post we hit on 5 keys for introverts when working on your networking skills
- Be aware of nonverbal communication
- Look for the right moments to engage in a conversation
- Preparation is key
- Send a follow up email
- Be true to yourself
Working on these 5 things will put you well on your way to growing your network.
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