I’m an introvert.
I should have realized this when I was a kid as I would have been much more confident much earlier in my life.
Being an introvert does not mean you are shy (though you could be) or a social outcast, it simply means that being with other people drains you of energy. You need to be alone to recharge.
Acknowledging that you are an introvert allows you to tailor your success strategies to take advantage of introverted qualities.
American culture is extremely extroverted, and the American business culture is even more so. In the past year I’ve done more networking then I have in my entire life and I’ve learned a few things that would be helpful to introverts as they build their network.
- Avoid large networking events. Go to the conferences and listen to the speakers, but don’t invest too much time and energy “working the room” and collecting business cards. You’ll end up exhausted and you likely won’t remember the people whose business cards you now posess. Any “celebrities” you wanted to meet will already be surrounded by people (probably extroverts) and you’ll find it tough to get a word in. Instead, I recommend cold e-mailing people individually and asking them to coffee. As an introvert, you’ll do much better with a one on one conversation in a less distracting environment. If you still want to go schmoozing at big networking events, find other introverts. They’re usually the people standing by themselves with a drink in hand scanning the room. Talk to 1-2 people, ask them if they’d like to get coffee another time, and then leave. Your fellow introverts will also be good contacts for you to have.
- Join clubs and interest groups that have a small number of members. If you join a club with a large number of members, make sure that the club allows you to break into smaller groups of 2 – 5. This is a much better way of developing relationships with people than schmoozing. You have an established common interest and will have repeated interactions with the club members. I personally enjoy running groups. I usually end up running with the same 2-3 people every time. Plus, it forces me to exercise.
- Build your network one person at a time. The shotgun approach is terrible and stressful for introverts. After a networking event I’ll come home with a bunch of business cards and contact only 1-2 of them because I get overwhelmed with the thought of meeting all of them. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Choose one person to meet with a few times and then meet with another person a few times. It’s possible that the initial person you talk to will introduce you to the next person.
As an introvert, your goal should be a slow and steady increase of your network. Depth takes priority, but breadth will eventually happen.
I just finished reading a book about introverts called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It is a super fun read if you’re an introvert (and I know you like to read). It talks about the origins of the extrovert ideal in the US (thanks a lot Dale Carnegie), the physiological and evolutionary roots of introversion, a comparison of introverted and extroverted communities and cultures (Asia vs the US, Cupertino vs the rest of America), and tips on how introverts can be successful in a myriad of professional situations. If you’re an introvert and are curious about why that is or how you can leverage it, check it out.