For introverted skeptics, professional networking checks all the wrong boxes. Social engagement is draining for an introvert. As a skeptic, you question whether networking will pay off. It feels like a big price to pay today — in time and energy — for an undefined benefit that may never materialize.
You can’t ignore the evidence, however, that networking works. It’s a great way to secure new opportunities — and also to learn, exchange ideas, gain confidence, raise your profile, showcase your capabilities, learn about others’ skills and interests, and set the stage to help and be helped. You might even make friends. Your skeptical side wants to get results, so the question shouldn’t be whether to network. It should be how to do it in a way that works for you.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of networking. The first is general, ongoing engagement that keeps relationships healthy and you and your networking partners connected — so you’re there for each other when opportunities arise. The second involves reaching out to specific people who can help you achieve a specific goal at a specific time — such as introducing you to a key sponsor for a leadership role or project you want. You get to choose how you invest your time.
Regardless of which type of networking you are doing, you likely have feelings about doing it at all — feelings unlikely to be reported in the positive column. Some perspective on channeling and managing the energy you spend networking might help.
Short term pain for long term gain. Weigh the value.
Recognize the value in small talk. I get it — small talk is absolutely painful for some. For skeptics, it feels trite and unimportant. For introverts, it’s an excruciating energy drain. For those with both traits in play? It’s often more than you are willing to take on.
But wait. There’s purpose and value here for you.
Imagine small talk as a warm-up for the conversation and an opportunity to gauge the attitude and attention of the other person. Consider what they’re hoping to accomplish. Maybe they don’t know what else to talk about and are struggling with networking, too!
You aren’t obligated to talk about the weather. Direct the conversation to places that suit you. Spend two minutes on shows you are watching, books you are reading, sports or activities you like Ask about their family or work or anything you can tolerate for that long before moving on to a topic that’s more meaningful for you.
Structure is your strength. Use it to drive the narrative.
Have a plan. Before you connect to video, pick up the phone, or arrive at a networking event, know what you want to achieve. If you believe networking is an important part of the path to the future you want, treat it as a priority. Plan to succeed.
What is it that you want to discuss, know, or share? Avoid the need to come up with something in the moment by identifying a couple meaningful topics in advance. Before heading into an event, strategize about who you want to meet or touch base with and also what is relevant to discuss in that conversation. With a plan in hand you can feel more comfortable. Often, at conferences or larger meetings you can identify speakers and participants you would like to meet. Know who you want to see or meet, what you want to discuss, and how much time you are willing to invest. Sound like a project plan to you? It is. Hey, use the things you love to make the things you tolerate easier to accept!
Your curiosity is powerful. Use it.
Don’t really have anything you want to talk about? Shift gears into listening mode. This strategy takes some pressure off you to ‘say the right thing in the right way’ anyway! Imagine letting go of that responsibility — even for a short time.
So often, others view you in a positive light when you ask questions and actively listen to what they have to say. You can ask another question after they respond, showing more interest, and gathering more information. You can tell them in words or otherwise indicate that what they have to say is relevant and important to you. Naturally, that means you actually care about the discussion. If you don’t, ask about something else. You can control the exchange with your questions as much as you can by sharing your thoughts and ideas.
Ultimately, a plan can relieve the pressure you associate with a networking event. Choose to have some control over the narrative and lean into your natural curiosity.
Do what works for you and don’t do what doesn’t. If you find networking at conferences and large social events to be exhausting and unproductive, don’t do it. Instead, find methods that fit you — schedule one-on-one conversations, e-mail information to a networking partner that they will find pertinent, thoughtfully respond to and share their social media posts. Recognize the cost-benefit of the choice — and do what advances your goals in a way that honors you.