Perception is a funny thing.
Next to my sister who works in sales and runs a cheerleading gym on the side, I seem like a wallflower. But next to some of my science and writing colleagues- the quiet, thinking types- I actually seem loud and outgoing.
But I know myself well. I am an introvert, even if I seem like an extrovert in certain situations.
Being shy is not a choice
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. However, our society values what Cain calls, the “extrovert ideal.”
For example, I recently came across an article that advised, “Don't waste time being shy.” Really? That's like saying, “Don't waste time being yourself.” And I don't think anyone should try to be someone they’re not.
So, how does networking work for people who are naturally shy?
Introverts can best network by listening
I mentioned in a previous post that networking is about listening, which is a good thing for introverts. If you're shy, you probably don't like promoting yourself or your business, so don't feel like you have to.
At networking events, people naturally expect to be asked about what they do, so it's ok to introduce yourself to others and ask questions about their jobs, careers, or businesses. If this sparks future conversations, great! If not, no worries. Move on and try again.
The object of networking is to build meaningful, purposeful, reciprocal relationships for your career or business over time.
Of course, if you're super shy, getting the nerve to just say hello might take some practice. You are not changing who you are (you'll always be an introvert, and that's ok!), you're simply adding a new skill to your skill to your set of abilities. It's kind of like a right-handed batter in baseball who learns how to switch-hit. The batter has a natural preference, but is choosing to add a new skill that takes time and practice to develop.
In my case, I've chosen to step out of my natural comfort zone and reach out to people because I'm eager to listen and learn from others as I transition to a new career. The more I push myself to practice, the easier networking becomes.
Observe how others interact
Sometimes you might come away from a networking event thinking that you did a terrible job at it. But if you take the time observe how others interact at an event, you might be able to cut yourself a little slack.
For example, were people there to meet with friends or clients they hadn't seen in a while? If so, they might not have been interested in meeting someone new like you. Were people there to pitch themselves or their business? If so, they might have rushed out of the conversation they were having with you because you were not a sales lead or potential investor.
By observing how others interact, you learn that people have different motivations for networking. If you're shy, having this understanding helps keep you from being discouraged on the days when networking seems really, really hard. This site is also full of great networking tips to keep you encouraged.
Do people perceive you as an introvert or extrovert? Do you think it matters when you are networking?
Jerrie Lynn Morrison looks forward to reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and watching Stephen Chobsky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower.