You may think that extroverts are better than introverts at networking because they gravitate toward social events, such as happy hours, work dinners and holiday parties. In actuality, introverts can be just as successful at networking because they are able to build deeper relationships.
Whether you identify as an introvert or an extrovert, you’ll have to go beyond surface and shallow relationships to build the kind of network that matters. You want to be connected with people that push your thinking, expand your access to opportunities and would not hesitate to help you should you ever need to find a new job or launch a business venture.
It isn’t enough to have people in your network that know you. They have to care about you and be willing to invest time on your behalf. Here are three networking tips that play to the strengths of introverts or anyone that hates making small talk at holiday parties.
1. Focus on the strengths of others
In general, extroverts have a higher number of professional contacts and connect with greater frequency, therefore expanding their sphere of influence.
Introverts, who often build a slightly smaller network, are more deliberate in their communications, asking penetrating questions and listening closely to responses. They also have a natural inclination toward observation which makes it easier for them to notice the strengths and contributions of others.
You don’t need to socialize with as many people as possible. Instead, by having fewer but more meaningful interactions, you can yield the same or even better results in building an effective network.
If you’re naturally inclined to take the spotlight off yourself, focusing on the strengths of others will come easily. Start by asking probing questions to find out not just what a new contact does, but how they do it. Try to discern what accomplishments they are most proud of and ask them for advice on how to improve in their areas of expertise.
2. Be disciplined about expressing gratitude
Networking is work. There’s no fast and easy way to create a strong network, so you’ll have to be prepared to devote significant time to building it.
The good news is that you can choose to skip a lot of the energy-draining social events, provided you are disciplined about sharing your appreciation regularly.
Expressing gratitude to others has been shown to be a highly effective way to generate prosocial behavior and build long-lasting goodwill. It’s almost counterintuitive but when you take the time to genuinely thank someone, they end up valuing you more.
To leverage this in your network, you simply need to become more deliberate about showing your gratitude. You probably make a point to thank your direct reports already, but how often are you thanking your boss, peers, former colleagues or industry contacts? If you’re like most people, not very often.
Think about old bosses that taught you things you are still using today, former team members that inspired you by their dedication and industry contacts that shared a new perspective or challenged you to up your game.
Every time you think of a way someone impacted your work life, add it to your task list to shoot them a note via email or text. Start with a goal of sending one thank-you note a week.
A well-written, ultra-specific and authentic message of thanks can go a long way in endearing yourself to a professional contact. In a world as busy as ours, the simple act of taking time to thank someone speaks volumes.
3. Check in when you don’t want anything
Introverts try to give people the same level of privacy they prefer themselves. This can be a disadvantage in staying connected with your network, because you may only reach out when you have a specific reason.
Yet when you check in for no reason, you remind people in your network that you care about what’s happening in their life. Even if you haven’t spoken in a while, receiving an unsolicited and authentic check-in is always welcomed.
First, be sure you won’t need anything from them in the near future. It will taint the sentiment if you end up reaching out in a month or two asking for a favor. So if you’ll be launching a job search or want to sell them something soon, be direct and ask for their help instead of checking in and delaying your request.
There’s a time to strengthen your network and there is a time to use your network, but it’s difficult to do both at the same time. This is why it’s important to remember to work on developing a strong network between career transitions and sales cycles.
As an introvert, don’t get intimidated by the idea of networking. Stay focused on growing closer to people and nurturing those relationships, and you’ll have all the support you need.
Kourtney Whitehead is a career expert and author of Working Whole. You can learn more about her work at Simply Service.