I’ll be honest with you — I’m a total extrovert. I recharge by being around people. But I have plenty of friends and coworkers who are introverts, and you know what? Our solitude-craving counterparts can teach us a lot about how to be successful in business, especially when it comes to networking.
Yep, you read that right. I believe introverts are better at networking than most extroverted people.
I’m not saying they like the idea of networking (who does, really?). In fact, they usually hate it. They’d probably rather jump into a black hole and never return than go to another networking event ever again, and I don’t blame them.
But luckily, there’s an alternative to networking events as we know them. And there are a few things introverts get right about networking that even the most extroverted of us can learn from.
When networking, it can be tempting to just think about who you need to give your resumé to and what they can do for you. It can also be disheartening if you feel like people only want to talk with you to see what they can get from you. Ultimately, that’s not helpful for either party.
On the other hand, introverts — at least the ones I know — are very sincere. They rarely give the impression that they’re just out for themselves. They’re probably more focused on getting through the event than on how many business cards they can hand out in the shortest amount of time. (But let’s be real … anyone’s capable of being insincere whether they’re introverted or extroverted, and that’s never a good way to get ahead.)
That doesn’t mean introverts can’t make small talk — they’d just rather not. Many of my introverted friends would tell you they couldn’t care less about talking about the weather or who won last week’s game with people they don’t know. Surface-level conversations make them tired. They want to get straight to the important stuff and take the discussion a little bit deeper.
That’s a good takeaway for anyone. If you’re trying to network with people you admire and want to learn from, listen more than you talk and ask detailed questions about them or their work. Try to find out what they’re excited about right now or what the story is behind what they do. That shows people you’re genuinely interested in them and their passions. And that actually makes them far more likely to want to help you.
Introverts typically don’t love big crowds, but if they can talk with just one or two people at a time, they have no problem carrying on a long and lively conversation. That authentic, one-on-one connection is essential to making a lasting impression. People probably won’t remember someone who spent a few minutes giving them an elevator pitch at a crowded event. They will, however, remember someone who took the time to connect.
Here’s a simple solution to all your networking problems: Don’t network. Connect! I know what you’re thinking. How am I supposed to get ahead in my career without networking?
Instead of traditional networking, try using something that I call The Proximity Principle. The Proximity Principle is this: In order to do what you want to do, you have to be around people who are doing it and in places where it’s happening.
So what does that look like in action? Start by asking yourself this: Where do I need to be, and who do I need to be around so I can do what I want to do? Once you have the answer, be proactive and find those people and places—and then find opportunities to watch, listen, learn, ask questions and connect with others in those environments.
That might mean interning at a film studio where you one day hope to be behind the camera. It might mean volunteering to keep records for a company where you eventually want to have a leadership role. Or it might simply mean asking someone to lunch or coffee just to talk about how they got where they are. When people see that you’re humble and eager to learn as much as you can, it builds trust and genuine connections. And that will put you one step closer to doing the work that excites you and brings you joy.
So introverts, keep doing what you love: staying far, far away from networking events. And extroverts, take a note or two from your introverted friends. But regardless of what side of the spectrum you fall on, use The Proximity Principle and you’ll never need to suffer through another one of those events in your life. Opportunity will come to you!
Originally published on The Ladders.
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