Networking for people who hate networking …

… is the title of a great book by Devora Zack.

Zack is keen to reframe networking “as an opportunity to create meaningful connections, requiring skills such as listening, focus and depth”. Her key point is that introverts should not try to be extroverts – it simply won’t work – but encourages them instead to focus on the gifts introverts have. Having said that, Zack is careful to dispel stereotypes about introverts and extroverts and points out that there are variations within these broad categories and everyone has bits and pieces of both traits. There are also those who end up in the middle and Zack calls these folks centroverts.

If this sounds all like a load of nonsense, I have to say I’m an introvert, although I don’t come across as that to some, and I found this book hugely helpful. And I don’t actually hate networking, I just feel I am very clumsy at it sometimes. My level of introversion really depends on what situation I am in, and how I am feeling. I do genuinely enjoy talking to people and finding out what makes me tick.  What frustrates me is that networking skills don’t always feel that they come easy to me. I may turn up to occasions that present a fantastic networking opportunity only to feel somewhat “struck dumb” and have no idea of how to strike up conversations with people. Zack suggests three strategies for introverts – pause (research), process (focus) and pace (restore).

So what are these 3 Ps all about?

Pause – this is all about dedicating time to plan before networking opportunities to review your strategy and think through responses you might give, or questions you might ask – this allows you to communicate with clarity and precision. Strategies include:

  • preregistering
  • plan what you will wear
  • stopping work a little early so you aren’t rushing
  • volunteering to help if possible – a structured designated role can be helpful
  • go with a pal and challenge each other to target others and report back
  • clarify what you want to achieve, arrive early, take a moment before you head in, freshen your breath

Process – is all about utilising your introvert skills – combining deep listening skills with well formed questions. Tips here include asking open ended questions, replace a why question with how or what, and ask thoughtful questions that build rapport. Specific tips include:

  • check out the nametag table
  • linger by the food – its an excellent networking space
  • scan the room
  • chat to the staff at the venue
  • get in line (for food, drinks etc) – conversation openers include asking about work, origin of an interesting name, or what brought them to an event)
  • make eye contact
  • make yourself approachable
  • note the unusual – notable accessories or unique styles invite conversation (and wearing something interesting yourself doesn’t hurt either I’ve found)

Pace – introverts need time to recharge their batteries, pacing activities allow this. Less is more and few people = better outcomes for introverts. Quantity is an exhausting and inauthentic measurement of success for introverts. Specific conversation starters include:

  • what kind of work do you do?
  • what interesting projects are you working on?
  • how was your day?
  • do you have plans for [the weekend, vacations, the summer]
  • do you want to join me in checking out the appetizers

As part of Pacing you also need to :

  • focus on you – offer up a few tidbits (decide in advance what you are comfortable sharing) – many people don’t like the questions being all one way!
  • focus away from you – everyone is not noticing what you are doing
  • schedule recharge breaks
  • visit the information table
  • write it down – note pertinent info on the business cards of new acquaintances
  • have strategies for ending a conversation gracefully (may I have your card, have you met …, I am just heading over to eat/drink, I need to make a call  …)
  • know when to split
  • plan your escape

And afterwards:

  • personalise follow up
  • be useful – send an article or link relevant to your conversation
  • reward yourself

The creation of lasting, real connections and the discovery of connectivity is the new, improved way to build a strong and lasting network (p. 154)

You can see a preview of this book on Google Books

See which New Zealand libraries have this book

It you are interested in thoughts around introverts as embedded/liaison librarians you’ll find these posts interesting:

4 thoughts on “Networking for people who hate networking …

  1. Great tips Alison.
    I went to a session about how to network better once, and we spent some time on how to ‘break into the circle’ (ie, breaking into a group of people already talking).
    All good in theory, but the best I have ever seen is someone saying, “Don’t mind me, I’m just breaking into the circle”! Fantastic ice breaker!

  2. Joanna says:

    “note the unusual – notable accessories or unique styles invite conversation (and wearing something interesting yourself doesn’t hurt either I’ve found)”

    Yes, this works! I discovered today that butterfly prints and green boots do the trick to get a conversation going – particularly if the only two librarians in a room of academics are both coincidentally wearing butterflies. Seriously, as a true introvert myself, it really did help.

    • Ali says:

      Thanks for that Joanna 🙂 I think there is a whole blog post on the “usefulness of wearing interesting things” as a conversation starter and getting yourself noticed!

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