Historically, we have always thought of extraversion as the cornerstone of sociability, and a powerful lubricant for interpersonal relations. However, many of the actual behaviors that fuel effective networking are more likely to be found in introverts than extroverts. As much psychological research suggests, extraversion can often be a curse if your goal is to not just build, but also sustain, positive and meaningful work relations with others, something that has been accentuated by our deep dependence on technology.
There are three main reasons extroverts are potentially at a disadvantage when it comes to networking.
Networking is predominantly about digital skills
Even before the pandemic introduced massive quarantines and remote working for most knowledge workers, the biggest proportion of work-related connections and interactions happened in virtual environments. This imbalance was significantly augmented during this pandemic. In very little time, we have transitioned from a world in which the archetypical salesperson was an extroverted, charismatic player who knew how to get a table at a nice restaurant or get the barman’s attention to order the next round, to one where the ideal salespeople are like tech-savvy introvert able to master digital tools and leverage the value of data-driven insights.
As Erica Dawhan shows in her brilliant new book, Digital Body Language, there is still a well-defined etiquette to building and growing your professional networks online, but it is easier to adopt by introverts than extroverts. You need to study it patiently and implement it while you are on your own and looking at a computer or phone screen. In fact, the more you can avoid real-world distractions, and the happier you are on your own, the more time and practice you will have to master and enhance your professional networks.
Extroverts have a tendency to crave (rather than pay) attention
Even in the analog world, there are some counterintuitive deficits around social skills which are more commonly associated with extroverts than introverts. Superficially, we may see extroverts socializing or networking and conclude that they are dominant and assertive. Often though, they are just in performative mode and what you see is sheer exhibitionism and entertainment. In fact, because extroverts love performing and showing off, they are easily more focused on themselves than on others and are likely to see others purely as their audience. You may have met people who are great performers, speakers, presenters, and detected a gap between their on-stage persona (warm, funny, charismatic) and how they act when the lights are off and the main audience is gone (cold, dry, blunt). To some degree, this is what happens with a lot of extroverts. They have a great initial window to make a positive impression, but in the long run, are more interested in getting others’ attention than in paying attention to others. Unsurprisingly, academic studies have highlighted a positive link between extraversion and narcissism.
Extroversion has a dark side
Every personality trait has a dark side and extraversion is no exception. It can be associated with overconfidence, impulsivity, and arrogance. Western cultures, and especially the U.S., have spent so long glorifying and celebrating extroversion, that it took an entire movement and paradigm shift (led by Susan Cain’s quiet revolution) to remind people that it is okay to be introverted. Only a culture that mistakes confidence for competence, and prefers hubris to humility, can end up so confused.
It’s equally important to understand that an excess of extroversion will make people overconfident, impulsive, and arrogant, all of which can jeopardize rather than harness effective networking, particularly in the long term. Consider a person who is really proud of their social skills, to the point that they miss obvious signals from others and key feedback clues about their behaviors. They would be funny and charming only in their own mind and fail to pick up key signs that incentivize them to work on their social skills and get better.
If you are overly assertive and impulsive to the point that you fail to pause and think how other people may feel, you will likely say the wrong things, hurt their feelings, and make avoidable mistakes in your interactions with others. Because of their overconfidence and lack of filter extroverts are more likely to act in authentic ways, but this can be a liability rather than a strength.
The most effective networkers and socially skilled individuals pay a lot of attention to how others perceive them, and they make a big effort to adjust their behaviors and censor their authentic selves. The real—that is, the unfiltered, uninhibited, and uncensored version of you—is someone who only about five people in the world have learned to love, or at least tolerate.
Since networking depends on being competent rather than confident, methodical rather than impulsive or interpersonally assertive, and interested in others rather than being interesting to others, introversion is a bigger asset to networking. And while this latest shift to virtual communication has made this clearer, even the essence and historical foundations of productive interpersonal relations have been less archetypical extroverted, and more about interpersonal sensitivity and empathy.
As the great Dale Carnegie noted: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” It is not those who talk a lot, but those who listen carefully, who will manage this best.