networking

Networking Is A Life Skill

I hear it over and over again: “I can’t network. I’m an introvert.” “I don’t know what to say.” “I don’t want to brag.” A lot of people don’t like networking, but the bulk of them seem to be introverts.

I’m an introvert, too, and I’m also an entrepreneur, having to teach myself along the way how to reach out and build that body of interested people who support and buy what I do. To make it even harder, I retired in California, moved back to Minneapolis, waited a few years, and then found I wanted to start a business in a city where I had no business contacts and only one friend (a nun).

Business coaches stymied me from the start, because they would start by saying: “First, send a warm letter to all of your friends, telling them what you’re doing and asking for their support.”

Oh. A fellow coach wailed that she only had 100 friends on her Christmas card list, and I was awed by her popularity. This was an exercise at which I never excelled, because my Christmas card list was five.

Introverts, whom I often call the “Quietly Brilliant,” are very likely to have one or two very deep friendships and a moderate number of pleasant acquaintances. This is dangerous for many reasons, among them the fact that those one or two deep relationships, whether professional or personal, can disappear in a wink of an eye, for such reasons as:

  • You lose your job
  • Your company moves and you don’t
  • Your supportive boss – who really liked you – leaves
  • Divorce – and your best friend disappears
  • Marriage (of a friend who disappears into a different social circle)
  • Your BFF is transferred or moves
  • Death of a close friend or loved one
  • You move! As I did.

And you are stricken, dealing with loss, and suddenly finding that you need to find some way to search for and find a replacement for that Very Important Person. Where do you go? How do you do it?

If you don’t have a plan and haven’t been practicing how to connect with others, the poorest time to start networking is when you are dealing with loss. So start practicing now.

Here’s my starting point for introverts who are “socially cautious”:

Step 1: Find friendly people with whom to connect. 
We introverts tend to look for reasons why it would be uncomfortable or even dangerous to approach other people. (Years of being told we’re too quiet, we should get out more, we should speak up, etc., have made us wary of other people and their potential disapproval and left us with the idea that we are somehow odd and unique. In fact, we’re over 50% of the population.)

Instead, try this simple exercise for a week or so: Suspend your sense of uniqueness and look for similarities between yourself and others. If they’re similar to you, how can they be so unapproachable?

For example, I am not a sports fan. Repeat, just N O T A S P O R T S fan. But because I was a ballet dancer, I can relate to how passionate someone can become about physical performance and competition. As I was growing up, I read every history book about ballet, and followed the careers of prominent dancers, so I can relate to how concerned someone can become about athletes, teams, their history and their current challenges. Therefore, I have a basis for conversation with someone I might have dismissed as too different. I can empathize with the thought of what an injury does to peak performance (of oneself or of an idol), how draining and humiliating defeat in an athletic arena can feel, and so on.

We don’t see a lot of friendly people out there because we haven’t believed it. We tend to think we are unique. But they are out there, just as anxious as we are, and wanting to share their enthusiasms but don’t, perhaps believing no one will understand.

Connecting personally with others is an important first step to setting up business connections that last.

Step 2: Reach out and empathize. Make a simple comment, not too personal but delivered with a smile, that shows you have some idea of what the other person is going through. For the clerk in a store: “It must be tiring lifting and scanning all those items every day.” For the deliveryman, “What a lovely day for an outdoor job,” or “This weather must really make your job harder.” Short contacts, no further interaction required (although you’ll be surprised at how often it triggers conversation).

Practice in these low-risk situations and it will become easier in situations where you really need to meet new people.

Step 3: Spread your thanks around as if they were fertilizer (because they are). Ditto for compliments.

Park the perfectionism you probably have as an introvert: keep it for serious stuff, such as your income tax return, operating heavy equipment, or doing brain surgery. It doesn’t belong in human relationships. Be forgiving and empathize with little mistakes if they are not too serious.

Thank the person who stops to hold the door open for you, pauses to let you enter a line of traffic, the clerk who discovers you didn’t take your small change or points out an even greater bargain than what you have selected, the person who asks about your recent health issue – all of these people deserve thanks for their consideration.

Try thanking a co-worker who completes a routine job for which he or she is paid. You may believe it’s simply their duty, but anyone can become fatigued doing their duty day after day and being taken for granted.

Interestingly enough, being thankful openly makes it easier to point out those little mistakes others have made. You are beginning to develop “social capital.”

These are the preliminary steps to becoming a socially confident networker; there are many more. But if you can’t recognize how important this process is, and how easy it is, once you know the right steps, you will never start.

With networking, you can develop social capital, a bank account of good will on which you can draw, but into which you must make deposits. Social capital can bring you:

  • Help and moral support when you need it.
  • Increased inter- & intra-departmental collaboration at work.
  • New business.
  • A promotion or new job.
  • Opportunities – more than you ever dreamed of in more areas than you now recognize.
  • …not to mention the increased warmth and ease you will feel in numerous social settings.

Networking is something we do – or don’t do – all day long. When you discover that not networking takes at least as much energy as actually doing it (not knowing where to go for help or resources, dealing with anxiety over replacing a loss, and more) you are on the path to an expanded future. Because networking is a journey, not an action.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Becoming a socially connected introvert – without exhausting yourself

 

I read the introverts forums, I watch the comments, and I feel a little dismayed. “Why won’t people leave me alone?” “I don’t like small talk, so I avoid people.” “Being around people is just so exhausting that I spend all my free time alone.” “I hate even the thought of networking.”

One gets the impression that all introverts are grumpy, asocial and even hostile to people who desire more stimulation and activity in their lives (OK, extroverts).

Unfortunately, good health and success are tied to the high quality of the relationships we form. Isolation is not.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Fortunately, I know introverts who are highly successful in personal and professional life, especially relationships.

My friend with whom I traveled is an introvert who has a wealth of supportive friends and a successful professional life. Everywhere she goes, she seems to encounter someone who knows and likes her. If they don’t know her already, they will soon like her.

An outgoing extrovert? No, a lifelong introvert, who values her private time, makes it clear to others that she does so, and withdraws and uses meditation frequently to clarify life’s problems.

The lessons she models are important ones, because the people who “just want to be left alone” may be nonplussed to discover that they nevertheless need support, such as a drive home from a hospital after a procedure, a place to stay when their home has become temporarily uninhabitable, support for a bright idea, or even just a hug. And if you have a dream or a vision: nobody gets there alone. We all need support, and to get support you need to connect.

How she does it is a model for introverts everywhere. Here are some key guidelines.

Look for similarities, not differences.

It’s too easy to see someone else as abrasive or exhausting. Try to look for something you have in common with another person, or at least something likeable – perhaps a characteristic you’d like to have, such as a way of making people smile, or putting them at their ease.

Thoughtfulness: your Secret Weapon

Thinking deeply and noticing subtleties are real introvert skills. Too often we misuse them; our deep thinking becomes rumination, in which we obsess over and over about our inadequacies or embarrassments. The subtleties we may latch on to are other people’s negative reactions to things we do or say, rather than insights about the other people.

What about changing that to look outward and see other people for who they really are, then think of how you can connect?

My friend says that, when she meets someone new, she always looks for a similarity.

Reaching out and sharing doesn’t have to be exhausting.

You don’t have to sign up for big, noisy events, such as following the crowd to happy hour, to be socially connected.

Invite a colleague or neighbor to have coffee or tea: a one-on-one encounter in which you can find out more about the other person. You can take charge of the time, length and setting of the event.

Connecting doesn’t even have to take that much activity, nor do you even have to be physically present. It can only take a minute or so, sometimes even a second, to send thoughtful notes that are easy and quick. Keep some great stationery or cards on hand, then comment on birthdays, anniversaries, and especially successes.
Too busy to find cards and notepaper? Send one of those animated online cards, but make sure you add a personal note.

Set up a calendar which sends you reminders of other people’s special events: birthdays, anniversaries.

Special hint to make you special to others: take some time to make the message personal – for example, not just “congratulations,” but something like “I knew your ability to focus and be dedicated would pay off like this.”

Her way is to keep a list of people she knows and their tastes. During this recent trip, in April, she carried her Christmas list for next year, filling her suitcase with colorful bookmarks, soaps, and trinkets with which to delight her relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues. All year long she picks up things that she thinks will delight people on that list. Most items are neither large nor expensive, but they are truly insightful. Her choices are very apt: at one point, she gave me a small pair of wooden tongs to fish burning toast out of a toaster without electrocuting yourself. I use them every day, and I think of her every time I use them.

Having human contacts and arranging that those contacts don’t drain you of energy can keep you healthier and happier in so many ways.

Here are some of the consequences of the good social network she has set up:

She loves to travel, and has a host of friends to mind the cat and water the plants when she is away.

She also has a number of friends in other countries with whom she can connect when she next visits.

When she needs something, whether it is a new printer or a new sink, someone in her network seems to know exactly where to get it.

And recently, she started a new small business. With no advertising, not even a website, she had two clients in the first week. Some entrepreneurs agonize over how to attain visibility. She just does it naturally – one contact at a time.

So can you.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Confident Introvert Networker

Personal Note

Some years ago I had a close friend whose personality can only be described as extravagant.  When she entered a room, she did it with great style, capturing everyone’s attention and keeping that attention for most of the event.  She favored large, showy hats, and often compared herself to the iconic Auntie Mame.  An introvert, I admired her style and wondered how she did it so easily.

She had an annoying habit of being late.  Only later did I find out that, during the hour or so that she was late, she was actually crouched on the floor of her closet, curled up in the fetal position, waiting for her medication to take effect so that she could go out and face the world.

Sad though that realization was, it helped me recognize that insecurity wasn’t my lonely challenge; even confident-appearing extroverts may have deeply-hidden  insecurities.

In a sense, those of us who have recognized our own insecurity are in a stronger position, because we can admit, at least to ourselves, that we have a challenge with which to work.  Sadly, she never did.

Today’s article offers some suggestions, based on my (now) years’ of experience, as to how to handle those challenges.

 The Confident Introvert Networker

Whether you are networking for business or for personal reasons, being an introvert can make the process painful.  It doesn’t have to be.

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My interest in confidence and its opposite, social anxiety, came as the result of a painful end to a marriage in which I had become increasingly socially isolated. Finding that I had to seek new friends, I decided to go to join groups, such as alumnae groups, and go to meetings and events where I would meet people, only to find that this was very difficult.

At the event, I’d enter the room hopefully and see that there were little clusters of two, three or more people standing in a circle and talking animatedly to one another.  Hopefully, I’d edge closer to the group, only to find that the members would close the distance between them, effectively cutting me off, and literally giving me the shoulder.
I went home time after time, rebuffed and hurt, convinced, as many unconfident people are, that I had a special  secret mark on me that read “unlovable” or “not very interesting, don’t bother” or as a friend of mine liked to say, “They saw the zipper down the back of the pretend suit.”

But I learned from people like the publisher’s representative who came to my college office that most people are a little insecure.  When I described the above kind of experience, this skilled sales person blushed and said, “I’ve done that, too.  I just don’t know how to behave in those circumstances.”

Here are some hints to help you:

Assume everybody’s insecure: they just show it differently.  Regrettably, the social anxiety that we call shyness has escalated in the United States in the past two decades, with an astonishing 50 % now saying that are chronically shy ( up from 40% several decades ago) , and another  40 % saying that have been shy in the past, while 15% admitted to being shy in certain situations. Only 5% of people say they have never been shy. The probability that you will encounter insecure behavior from others as time goes by is very high, even if you don’t immediately recognize it.

How about those folks who come to events  with friends, and continue animatedly talking to the same people without reaching out or making eye contact with anyone else, much less conversation?  Yup.  If you want to observe confidence, locate someone who is circling the room, moving from one person to another, and holding conversations in which they hold eye contact and look interested in meeting someone different.

Become part of the action: Arrive early and offer to help, particularly with a task that involves greeting newcomers: hand out name tags or materials, pass hors d’oeuvres, give directions ….

If there isn’t a task for you, learn the directions – to the meeting room, bathroom, or whatever – and station yourself near the door, ready to direct people who look a little uncertain.

Round up the mavericks:  When I attended events with my godmother, she would often scan the room and say, “There’s someone alone.  Let’s ask him/her to join us.” And she would.

At Christmas, her home was flooded with Christmas cards She, incidentally, traveled all over the world,  being greeted by residents, staying in the homes of people whom she had met at an event, or in a line at a museum, or wherever she was. She was actually a shy person, but she had mastered the art of connecting with people – one at a time.

Make up a group of people who came along and start your own little circle.  But never forget to look for newcomers and welcome them.

Be alert for people who make a casual, friendly remark as you hurry by.  They may be wanting to start a conversation, too.  Help them out.

Don’t try to “make a sale”: Whether you’re actually selling a product or service, or just trying to meet people for personal reasons, pay attention to this wisdom that I got from a friend who was a very successful, prize-winning sales person.  When I asked her the secret of her success, she said, “I never try to make a sale.  I just try to make a friend.”

As you implement these little social skills, become aware that you are becoming more socially powerful than 90% of the population.  That should boost your confidence.

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Lynette is a member of MVP Seminars. Visit her at www.MVPSeminars.com

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