There’s an easy way to tell if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. You’ve had a long day, mostly in meetings, the rest of it working closely with your team. You’ve basically had no time to yourself since you arrived in the office this morning. One of your colleagues is going to some networking drinks, and asks if you want to come with them.
How do you feel?
a) Like you’ve just remembered another ‘pressing engagement’ that you can’t possibly get out of (it’s called Netflix. Attendees: one).
b) Conflicted - you need some alone time but you know pressing the flesh is good for your career.
c) Whoopee, networking drinks.
If you’re a C, you could stop reading now, but you probably shouldn’t: extroverts could do with understanding the interior life of their introverted colleagues. If you’re an A or B, hard luck. We live in an extrovert’s world. At work, you’re expected to speak up in meetings, make presentations, and make a name for yourself with the senior management. In your career, you’re expected to network.
For the introvert, that’s just draining. Our energy and ideas come from time alone; being around lots of different people for too long is just exhausting.
Since Susan Cain's book Quiet came out a few years ago, there's been more attention on respecting the differences between introverts and extroverts, and rightly so. Sadly, though, there’s no way around the fact that career success is heavily dependent on the ability to form strong professional relationships, and avoiding other people will therefore always put you at a disadvantage.
You can either resign yourself to a less successful career (we’re looking at you, option As) or try to make the best of the situation. The good news is, you might actually have an advantage over your extroverted peers, if you’re smart about it.
Don’t fake it. If you believe that successful networking means pretending to be the life and soul of the party, you’re setting yourself up for a fail. People will probably just find you inauthentic or obnoxious. Good networkers don’t actually have to be loud or gregarious anyway – after all, if you’re always talking, when will you find time to listen? Be yourself - it's more than enough.
Quality counts. If asking questions plays to your strengths as an introvert, so too does focusing on depth over breadth. You don’t have to work the room, having skin-deep chats with fifty people; a few in-depth conversations can produce more meaningful results, and ultimately more useful contacts.
Bring a wingman. It’s a lazy misconception that introverts are all shy wallflowers with inadequate interpersonal skills. There is such a thing as quiet confidence. But if you really are unbearably awkward around groups of new people, you may benefit from a wingman (or indeed, wingwoman). Bring along an extrovert friend or colleague to help you break the ice.
Remember to follow up. This is an axiom of good networking in any case, but it’s of particular relevance to introverts. Why? Because extroverts find it that much easier to follow up with someone they met at a conference last week because they enjoy doing it. Fix a follow-up quickly, instead of setting a vague commitment that you then indefinitely put off.
Consider online networking. The web is traditionally a friend of the introvert, because it offers a way of interacting that’s less intense than the real world. But it can be a useful tool in finding new contacts and then keeping in touch with them. Drop someone an email, join a LinkedIn group or connect on social media. You could even try networking apps (Shapr, for instance, is the Tinder of
Have fun. You should rightly see networking as an investment, a sacrifice for the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. The trick is not putting the pressure of expectation on yourself, but instead seeing it as an opportunity to meet people who might actually be interesting. Just be sure to give yourself some time afterwards, to recover.