An 8-Step Introvert's Guide To Networking
A research-backed guide to help you meet people and maintain your sanity
A couple of days back, a friend asked me a profound question that I think I'll probably remember for the rest of my life.
"Shruthi, what kind of a world do you want to live in? Or create?"
The answer that instantly occurred to me from the depths of my heart was:
"I want to be in a world where we don't need to pretend. In a world where we can tap into our personalities and still feel accepted. A world where we don't NEED to change."
Deep and philosophical, I know. Ambitious even. But I cannot deny the truth in those statements.
How does this incident relate to this guide?
Because being an introvert and networking are always seen on the opposite sides of the spectrum. While researching for this guide, I found tons of articles with "hacks" and "tips" for making an introvert's life easier. I then realized that we're living in a society where solitude or deep thinking (which are said to be the standard characteristics of introverts) aren’t appreciated anymore. Why?
So I want to tell you this. I'm not writing this piece so that you can mould yourself into someone you're not. But to dig deep, tap into your personality, focus on your strengths and not feel guilty for not being able to be strong in something.
Remember this throughout the guide, and hopefully also after reading the guide.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHANGE TO FIT SOMEWHERE.
Now let's move on.
First, let's bust some myths. Shall we?
I hate putting people into cute little boxes. Yeah yeah, it's ironic considering the title of the article, but I also did not know how to phrase it better. And you did click on it, didn't you?
- Introverts are not shy people. Shyness is different from being an introvert.
As an ambivert, I despise being the centre of attention (especially in real life). I also have friends who're fantastic at public speaking being introverted. Social anxiety and being an introvert are two different qualities.
- Introverts are people who lose energy in social interactions, while extroverts gain energy in social interactions. At least, according to Simon Sinek, which I feel is so true.
- Again, there's no one purely introverted or extroverted. That person doesn't exist. Think of the whole thing as a spectrum of personalities, and we all exist at different points of the spectrum. Takes the pressure off to conform to identities, doesn't it?
Note: Did you know there are 4 types of introverts? I got supremely fascinated by this!
If you found the above points weird or mind-boggling, yeah. I was in your shoes a couple of weeks back too.
I hate the term. More like despise.
There I said it.
Because the word reminds me of purely transactional relationships, where the person ONLY reaches out to you when they want something for personal gain.
Feels icky? Yeah, me too!
According to Investopedia, the definition of networking is as below.
But what people miss out on is that it's purely forming relationships with like-minded people, irrespective of the profession!
Yes, if you're an entrepreneur, you don't have to talk to ONLY entrepreneurs, or if you're a dancer, you don't need to talk to ONLY dancers to grow. Even in your professional relationships.
You've no idea how beneficial it is to meet people from other career paths or avenues — new insights, opinions, and perspectives…want me to go on?
Now, do you struggle with meeting people too? Here are some pointers!
1. Set quotas or boundaries
Soon after I started my entrepreneurial journey, I started talking to loads and loads of people. It wasn't intentional. I just loved meeting new people and listening to their stories.
But… I burned out in 1month.
Why? Because I wasn't conscious of my energy levels.
If you're someone like me who deals with serious FOMO for missing out on calls/events, setting a defined quota immensely helps to maintain a balance. Don't feel guilty for not doing enough, and don't slam yourself down a burnout wall.
It can be anything, but it should work out for you. Nobody else. Some examples are:
- Protect your calendar. You can have "call" or "meeting" days in a week. Or even specify a couple of hours to meet people, after which you can return to your comfort zone.
- If you're going to real-life parties, let your friends know that you'll only be able to attend them for 2 hours or so. Not the whole night. Set expectations
- Plan your calls and meetups way ahead of schedule. So that you can prepare yourself to go to it.
2. Collect and connect dots
You don't have to do it if you're uncomfortable with group conversations with strangers. You don't need to try to fit in like others who constantly roam around with groups.
To be honest, I used to feel supremely jealous and guilty when I saw people who had 100 friends, weekly parties and everything. I just couldn't do it, nor could I maintain so many friendships (until today, I have 4 to 5 close friends — one from each stage of life).
Try 1:1 instead.
It truly removes the pressure of trying to fit in. Or at least to a considerable extent.
It isn't that scary, and you also get to meet various people from different backgrounds. Rick Turoczy calls it "Connecting Dots". It is time-consuming, no doubt, but over time you'll start to see patterns between people and also learn to connect these individual dots.
Almost like pieces of a puzzle. Plus, the 2 people you connect with will always remember you because you created immense value in their life.
You don't have to do much.
Just invite one person to a coffee meeting to collect one new dot. If that seems too much, then at least say yes to the next invite you get. More than enough.
3. Tap into your skillsets
As extremely observant and curious people, you see what others don't. Use that skill.
Conversations don't require you to talk much. Ask the right questions, and the other person will lead the way. You can simply listen and observe. I don't mean this in a bad way, but you know what I mean.
A simple "What are you struggling with the most?" works wonders. Because often, you don't know what people around you want. You assume.
Many of my introverted friends are the most empathetic people I've ever seen. In their true self, they get emotions that many others don't. So have the ability to develop deep quality friendships.
Again, use it.
4. Go where meeting people gets easier
And no, I don't mean networking events. Gosh no. Please don't attend them ever!
But what I mean are events, conferences, workshops, group activities, Twitter spaces…places where people congregate for a common purpose other than networking. Not only do you not have to find people to talk to, but you also have context.
With that context, starting conversations gets easier. Also, the probability of people approaching you increases. So you don't even have to initiate a lot of times.
One tip is to have something curious about you.
Not to be a show-off (that puts people off), but just to slightly induce that curiosity. Some online examples include Kevon, the Build in Public guy, who has broccoli in his bio. So apparently, people keep asking him that, and it becomes a great conversation starter. Similarly, my friend Christine's bio reads, "I wrote a drunk email. Now I'm a copywriter." She told me this morning that at least 1 or 2 people ask her the story every single day.
This works even in the real world.
5. Prepare, prepare and prepare
Okay, this might sound weird, but one of my friends has pre-meeting rituals.
She prepares herself and her mind to get into a state of talking to people. — To get out of her comfort zone and tells herself that she just needs to meet people for X hours or so before she can get back.
Of course, once you set the boundaries mentioned in point 1, you also need to implement them (informing people, putting the times in your calendar etc.)
6. If you're purely networking for business
Think of getting a partner who has completely opposite temperament as you. The best mix of characteristics comes together to create something amazing and impactful.
You can tap into your skillsets, and they can tap into theirs.
I know finding a partner can be hard. Especially when you have too much passion for your business. I'm not asking you to compromise on it too! Just keeping an open mind and eyes can do wonders for you.
If not a partner, at least create a support system (if you're working in a 9 to 5) around you to become the best version of you.
7. Have tactics to extricate yourself from situations
My husband and I have it to leave a party or a gathering, too — it's raising our right eyebrows (so now you know what it means if we do). Once we catch the other doing it, we're immediately supposed to come to the rescue and flee from the place.
Not all gatherings or meetings (in real life or virtual) will be great. Some will make you want to pull your hair. Why spend time on things that don't benefit us at all?
I know we all do it subconsciously but have proper exit tactics for all scenarios (1:1, online meetings, real-life meetings, family etc.).
I've even told people that my internet went down when I just wanted to get out of a call. Or installed an app that would fake call at a touch of a button (Yeah, those exist!!).
It's perfectly okay, and you don't have to feel guilty.
You've no idea how much people don't care. The people who do, get you.
8. Focus on quality and not quantity
You don't need to talk to many people weekly/month. You can set your own standards and proceed accordingly. That's the beauty of it.
Networking (at least for me) is meeting like-minded people, where you have wonderful deep conversations and not talk about the weather. You know those moments where you instantly connect with someone, and it just feels right? Yeah, I'm talking about those situations.
The best part of making friends online is that you have a choice. If you don't want to work with or talk to someone, you don't need to. There are 100s and 1000s of people out there. Knowing that you have a choice gives you power like no other.
You prioritize yourself more and value your time & energy more. Your ability to deal with shit reduces exponentially.
Even if you make one connection, make sure that it goes deep [I'm not talking about forcing a friendship here].
I know I keep repeating it like a broken record. But don't try to change yourself to fit into other's lifestyles or rules. You might be successful for some time, but the friction it causes inside you will only deepen over time.
Why do we need to live that way when we can live the life that we want? Right?
It's all about choices. Make the right ones.
I genuinely hope the tips above make your life easier. And that you meet some wonderful souls in your life who would be a great addition to your life. And you to theirs.