There is a misconception that extroverts make better leaders and networkers. After all, they’re Type A go-getters, they have bravado, and they’re charismatic. Excellent leadership qualities, right?
Yes, in specific situations. However, research published in Harvard Business Review revealed that contrary to popular belief, there are circumstances where introverts make better leaders than extroverts. For example, introverted leaders thrive in environments with proactive and vocal employees, because they’re willing to listen and consider their ideas. Extroverted leaders, on the other hand, are more likely to feel threatened when their employees question them.
You can say the same thing about networking. Professional events may seem like an extrovert’s domain, but introverts have superpowers that make them phenomenal networkers. If you’re an introvert, here are some examples of how you can tap into those strengths.
1. Redefine what networking looks like to you
When you think of an influential networker, what image comes to mind? Is it a loud, highly visible extrovert who is surrounded by people eager to breathe their air? Do you picture a person who constantly collects business cards, with an eye toward who can be most useful to them?
As an introvert, it can be exhausting to feel like you need to live up to this image. Introverts, who tend to deflect attention away from themselves, are more empathetic and focused on the needs of others. I believe this should be the primary purpose of networking. This “habitual generosity” is a key trait of what my partner, Scott Gerber, and I, call a “superconnector.” They are people more focused on true, long-term relationship building than on superficial, transactional connections. In fact, I’d argue that both introverts and extroverts should stop using the term “networking,” and start using the term “relationship building.” For introverts specifically, this term leans toward your strengths.
2. Don’t aim to work the whole room
“It’s useful before an event to learn a little bit about the people who will be there,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and founder of Quiet Revolution, a website and consulting firm for introverts. “For everyone you meet, you’ll get beyond basic small talk faster.” Because crowds of people tend to drain energy from introverts, they’ll spend less time at an event and need to make the most of every conversation. And unlike extroverts, they don’t feel the need to work the whole room. ” I always advise people when they go into a classic networking situation to look for what I call the kindred spirits,” says Cain. “The people they can truly connect with whether or not they have some professional reason to do it.”
For me, the most interesting people are not the people at the center of the room, so I look for people who are standing on the fringes, not the ones pushing themselves into a circle of conversation. Sure, I spend more time talking to fewer people, but in return, I feel that I come away from events with deeper and longer-lasting connections.
3. Focus on asking great questions
Extroverts get so energized about sharing ideas that they sometimes forget to ask about the other person. Introverts like to ask questions, but not all questions are created equal. For starters, “What do you do?” and Where are you from?” probably won’t prompt great conversations.
I like to ask people what excites them about whatever they happen to be working on. I’ve found that this question elicits information that can help me figure out how to be of use. You can have your own go-to question, but the trick is to ask something that encourages people to reveal themselves beyond surface-level chit-chat.
However, Cain cautions that introverts can overdo their natural talent for asking probing questions. “People will feel uncomfortable if you’re asking but not volunteering anything,” she says. So make sure that you make an effort to reveal information about yourself to strike a healthy balance.
4. Learn how to listen to what they’re not saying
Asking great questions is just one essential component to building a strong relationship. You also need to listen carefully to the answers, and that often involves reading between the lines.
Sometimes, the person you are talking to doesn’t know you can help them–and it’s on you to figure that out. When you encourage them to talk about their passion and interests, however, you can quickly glean how their needs might intersect with your capabilities and connection. That’s where the magic happens.
Ryan Paugh is the COO of The Community Company, an organization that builds community-driven programs for media companies and global brands. He is also the coauthor of Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships That Matter.