How to Network Without Changing Who You Are
Hi there fellow introvert,
I see you. I know you. I am you. Yes, I’m an introvert, an ISTJ personality type to be exact. But let’s forget about labels for a moment.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)
I want to share my story. It’s a weird one. It’s about my journey of starting a company, feeling like an impostor, realizing the importance of social skills, and how improving them helped me raise $100,000 in startup capital. I’ll also share some action items that you can use to your advantage if you’re interested in building a meaningful network—while staying true to your introverted self.
Attending Networking Events Was Nerve-Racking
A few years ago I had a company. Let me rephrase that: I had a domain name and an idea, but I had no money. In order to launch this “company,” I had to raise money from investors. The problem was I didn’t know anyone, and as a first time entrepreneur, I didn’t even realize what starting a company truly meant.
What I quickly learned was that a solid professional network is extremely important to raise money, create partnerships, and meet other like-minded entrepreneurs. So I embarked upon what ended up being a very scary, but life-changing journey.
I started with attending local networking events. For an introvert, it was nerve-racking, not knowing anyone and having to pitch myself and my business while gathering business cards. I felt awkward and out of place. For one, I was a young female at events usually filled with older, white males. Secondly, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being an impostor. I constantly felt that my idea and company were worthless, and the only reason I got to where I was was through a stroke of luck.
But I soon realized that if I really wanted this startup thing to be real, I had to begin making connections. I had to get better at networking. So I used the entrepreneurial mentality of an open mind and constant practice to improve my social skills.
To be honest, most of it was trial and error. I did read How to Make Friends & Influence People, and I observed how “charismatic” people interacted. It was scary and difficult, but after a few months, I got into the swing of it. Don’t get me wrong, I was (and still am) an introvert. I still struggled to get myself to networking events and had to fight the feelings of impostor syndrome and fear when approaching people.
I Learned to Flex My ‘Extrovert Muscle’
I’m still an introvert. I’d much rather work alone with a cup of coffee than go to a social event with a ton of people I don’t know. But a part of me has embraced flexing my extrovert muscle. It’s a tiny muscle, but there’s a spark that has manifested that I have leveraged.
Oh and what happened to my business?
I was able to raise $100k in capital for the business that eventually got acquired. But the best thing to come out of that experience was the connections I made with people who were passionate about the same things I was passionate about.
The network I developed became my close friends, cheerleaders, and mentors. In fact, aside from the $100k we raised, a few years later when I wanted to get a job, someone in my network helped me get one with a $20,000 salary raise!
How to Get Better at Networking
I recently embarked upon a new journey of becoming a communication coach. I love sharing the lessons I’ve learned, combined with neuroscience and psychology to help people improve their social skills. Here is some of my advice:
1. Social skills are just skills. Just like riding a bike or learning a new language, social skills are just skills. By working on improving them, you’ll have the opportunity to make real connections with people that are meaningful.
The reality is most of us are somewhere on a scale of being an introvert or extrovert. Don’t fall for the stereotypes. Just because you’re shy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an introvert and just because you have good social skills doesn’t mean you’re an extrovert (myself, for example).
I was always a person worth getting to know, but improving my social skills helped me connect with people and enabled me to represent the best version of myself. It helped me build trust and rapport with someone faster and better than I ever had.
Don’t let labels get in the way of improving a very important life skill. By prioritizing social skills, I was able to build a solid professional network, make more friends, and deepen my existing relationships. If you’re serious about improving your social skills, check out my site.
2. You don’t have to be perfect. Because introverts love to analyze, it’s very easy for us to fall into the trap of “I’m not great at socializing, so I’ll just hold back what I have to say or how I feel.”
Don’t let perfection get in the way of trying.
You can start off with super small goals like making eye contact and smiling at someone, but it’s better to start small and screw up at first than to never try at all. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
The reality of the matter is that after you speak to someone, what they remember is how they feel. Often times they don’t remember that you stuttered or that there was an awkward pause, they’ll remember that you listened or cared about what they had to say. Besides, studies have shown that we overestimate how much people notice about us. It’s called the “spotlight effect.”
Realize that people don’t really care all that much about every tiny mistake and that in order to make change, you need to take action.
3. Use your introversion to your advantage. One of the best strategies I use is listening. This works perfectly for me because I don’t have to feel the burden of having to “entertain” someone; therefore I don’t need to talk as much. So use that special quality of introversion that makes you more attentive and empathetic to have deeper conversations.
See, people love talking about themselves. In fact this Harvard study proved that people are willing to forego money to talk about themselves and their opinion.
Simply listening makes people feel valued and engaged. Asking open-ended or leading questions is enough for you to continue a conversation. When you give someone the stage to talk first, specifically about themselves, you immediately establish rapport with that person. Here are some questions to help you with that:
- Why did you feel that way?
- So tell me about yourself.
- How did you feel when that happened?
- What happened next?
- Tell me about yourself. Where are you from?
- Tell me about yourself. How do you spend most of your time?
4. Build your “thriving environment.” Getting social doesn’t have to mean huge crowds and approaching stranger after stranger. Introverts like smaller groups of people and one-on-one interactions, so tailor your social events accordingly.
Thankfully, I don’t have to attend networking events anymore. Here’s what I do instead: about once every quarter, I email about ten people I loosely know. They may be coworkers, friends of friends, or acquaintances. I pick a date and invite them over to my place for wine and appetizers. About 5-8 people end up coming. They’re people worth connecting with professionally. My criteria is that they’re ambitious, down-to-earth, and smart.
I basically host my own tiny networking events. It beats the name tags and schmoozing. People are more relaxed, the group is smaller, and the connections are deeper. Everyone there is somehow “vetted” by me, so people feel at ease and are more open to interact.
(For some tips on how to invite people to hang out with you, see my post here.)
I basically create the environment that I thrive in. You can too.
As a fellow introvert, I highly encourage you to work on your social skills as a way to quickly build rapport and trust with the people around you. Remember, social skills are just that….skills. You don’t have to change who you are as a person to add a new skill set to your repertoire.
Image credit: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock
Read this: 5 Hacks to Turn Small Talk Into More Meaningful Conversation
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