Close your eyes and picture your average business networking event. It’s a mob scene of garrulous glad-handers, isn’t it? Making new connections means putting yourself out there, overtly and often. It is, in other words, a game for extroverts.
Except it’s not–not exclusively, anyway.
The relative merits of extroversion and its more reserved cousin introversion has been a hot topic of organizational behaviorists of late, ever since Susan Cain released her popular Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking nearly two years ago. And while I think we can all agree the days of painting introverts as agoraphobic shut-ins who can’t sustain a simple conversation are behind us, it is clear we are still figuring out how those among us on the quieter end of the spectrum can leverage their personality qualities to bolster their own store of contacts–their relationship capital.
Regardless of your appetite for casual conversation and cocktails, here are five ways to navigate through the noise.
Introverts would much rather sit with an individual than dive into a large group. Too bad life is one giant gathering after another. But seemingly overwhelming moments can be whittled down to a more manageable size. Just think of them only as the sum of the attendees. Before every networking event, research the players. Who will be there whom you’d like to meet? Are you already connected to them in some way? What would you like to take away from the conversation? That kind of prepping makes it easier to zero in on targets at the event.
An introvert gets his energy from being alone and, conversely, is often drained by time spent in a large group. So once you’ve done your research, spend a few minutes in conversation with those key players. That really is all it should take. Offer your contact information and suggest a follow-up call, coffee, or lunch. Almost everyone will agree to this, and it will set up a more comfortable second meeting.
If you remember one thing about building relationship capital it should be this: the key to a healthy, effective network is quality over quantity. As Posse CEO and admitted introvert Rebekah Campbell recently noted in the New York Times, 15 close connections, who you have accumulated over years and whose advice and insights you can trust, are significantly more valuable than a roomful of passing acquaintances.
The fact is, trying to maintain a glut of contacts is time consuming and broadly unproductive. Even if you do it well–and being honest, introverts are not likely to do it well–all you have is too many people you know too little about and who will have too little to offer.
Instead, focus on developing strong relationships with a few super-connectors, people who already have their own highly developed networks you can tap into. Lots of potential contacts for the price of one. That’s an introvert’s dream.
Dale Carnegie hit the nail on the head all those years ago in How to Win Friends and Influence People: There’s no surer way to secure a new relationship (or to get what you need) than by making the other person feel important. Introverts do know how to listen, and lucky for them, most people like being listened to. Don’t waste energy filling up conversations with personal anecdotes. Just listen to what your new friend has to say. It will make a great first impression, and chances are you’ll learn something useful in the process, something that will create a follow-up opportunity down the road. That’s why you’re having the conversation in the first place, right?
Supplement actual face time with social media outreach. It’s a tactic made to eliminate some introversion-related anxieties because it avoids group settings but still lets you maintain important relationships. (Plus, it’s a great way to get some of that pre-conference research executed.)
In the end, introverts really are as equipped as extroverts to manage their relationship capital, because aspects of their personality that would seem to be detrimental to the task can be leveraged to their advantage. You don’t have to be the one making all the commotion to make the important connection.
—Josh Mait is chief marketing officer at Relationship Science LLC.