People argue me this point all the time, but I am an introvert. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs personality test and it comes back INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling Judging). I actually took it several times over a period of years trying to get a new personality. Nope, INFJ every time. Granted, I’m very low on the introvert scale, but still have both feet firmly in Introvertville. When people think of introverts, they think of shy, quiet, weirdos who live in their parents basement playing World of Warcraft all day, which, is so not true of me. I live in a condo. But doing a little research, I found that I actually did fit the introvert- specifically the INFJ- profile pretty closely.
There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts (*see above), but the main difference is that extraverts get their energy being around people and external stimuli while introverts get their energy from solitary environments and internal stimuli. Extraverts work out what to say by speaking, while introverts will have an internal dialogue first. In other words, extraverts are always talking to you and introverts are always talking to themselves. Introverts prefer to get the feel of a situation or group before jumping in and afterwards they need some time alone to recharge. This is definitely true for me. I’ve been known to flee like I stole something from places with too much going on. If I can’t flee, I end up shutting down and shutting up, because too much information is coming in at once and with my own internal dialogue (at that point it’s something like, “OH MY GOD!!! MAKE IT STOP!!!”) it’s too much to process. It’s not like I have some kind of freakout or “what’s wrong with that lady?” episode. I am still myself- it’s just with one foot (and my mind) pointed towards the exit.
Which brings me to this week’s book review, Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed and Underconnected by Devora Zach. After a conversation with one of my teachers about the importance of networking and my, ahem, reluctance to do it (the exact quote, “But it’s icky!”), I figured I would handle this the introvert way: get a book.
If you are an introvert or just want to understand introverts better (like why 9 times out of 10 we say, “No” when you first ask us to go somewhere), this is so totally the book for you. The gist of the book is that the vast majority of networking “rules” are written for extraverts and that’s why introverts- who make up 30-50% of the population- think they aren’t good at networking, but by tapping into our natural abilities we can turn that around. This little book (192 pages) is packed with fantastic practical advice and humor. One tip I loved was when you’re at a big event and get close to your tolerance limit, find a quiet place to be alone for a few minutes. I guess because it goes against my natural instinct to flee as if escaping a burning building, this simple solution escaped me.
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says if you want someone to like you, get them talking about themselves. Devora Zach points out that because introverts are usually not comfortable talking about themselves and are natural observers, that this is an area where they can excel.
If you are an introvert, make the most of your fabulous talents. Most introverts are more comfortable asking questions then revealing personal information. Tap into your high level of focus, combine deep listening with well-formed questions and you need never again be at a loss for conversation. Furthermore, your astute attention to subtle verbal and non-verbal (such as eye contact and full attention) information provides communication cues that allow you to gather a tremendous amount of data about others while networking.
She follows this up with a practical tip:
When ever possible, replace why with how or what. Consider replacing, “Why did you leave your job?” with “What led you to make a career change?” Thoughtful questions build rapport.
She goes on to give tactics for surviving a networking event that includes having a realistic, concrete goal for the event. Introverts probably aren’t going to talk to every attendee, but meeting a specific set number of new people gives you something to work towards. Also, she provides some conversation starters and some graceful conversation exit strategies.
The single greatest piece of advice in this book applies to both introverts and extraverts and is worth the $9.99. Because it’s Festivus, I’m going to give it to you for free! Most introverts are awful at self-promotion. Talking about ourselves and/or our achievements goes against our instincts, but without this skill, it’s hard to get where we want to go. Zach’s advice: write a 30 second advertisement for yourself. Since it is prepared and practiced ahead of time, we are not put on the spot when the inevitable “tell me about yourself” comes up. Plus, it can be adapted to whatever situation you find yourself in.
Much of our distaste for networking comes from believing that we will be perceived as fake or disingenuous. But here’s the thing, if you are funny, warm, kind, generous, happy, (and I know all my readers are those things, as well as, exceptionally good looking) that will come through, because you can’t not be those things. Ms. Zach says it like this:
Far more compelling is the discovery of your personality. This includes physical presence, sincerity, and attitude. Most listeners are not even aware that they’re soaking in this information through these less overt indicators. Yet these components form most of the basis for the listener’s decision whether to continue the conversation – and the potential relationship.
It’s said that for people to know you, they have to see you. So let people see you. It doesn’t mean be an introvert acting as an extravert, because on some level people will sense the incongruence between your inside and outside . It means be yourself, go at your own pace and find what works for you.
By the end of the book, I no longer thought, “But it’s icky!” Networking seems to be an acquired taste, but not completely repellant. I’ve said before that the things I do now were always possible, I just didn’t know it. I think networking is something I have to put in that same category. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it had a different name- something more human and less mechanical sounding. I thought about this for a little while (8 seconds) and all I could come up with was, “Happy Friend Making Time” and that sounds like a Japanese gameshow that may or may not involve live sharks. So, I’ll have to think about this some more. I was going to use this song for musical accompaniment this week for no other reason that I love that album. But on second thought, I think this song is perfect: