An unwillingness to invest time in building professional relationships can limit your career. Here are some ways to reduce the stress of developing a robust network.
Adrianne Koteen/TEDx SF/Flickr
Question: How many introverts does it take to hold a meeting?
Answer: Two… as long as they both have laptops and Internet connections!*
If you are an introvert-like me-you may have struggled in your career to network effectively. I find it draining to be at social events, especially with large groups of people. I often want to rush back home or to my hotel room and “recharge my batteries.” I much prefer one-on-one conversations to group meetings, and rarely feel comfortable around people I do not know. I do my best work sitting in a quiet room, and I hate to make or receive phone calls.
The good news is, I am not alone (though I often prefer to be!) Jonathan Rauch‘s Caring for Your Introvert column was, for several years, one of the most popular columns on The Atlantic‘s website. In The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership (which I highly recommend), Lisa Petrilli notes that:
- Introverts represent from 25-49% of the population
- Studies show that introversion increases with intelligence (more than 75% of people with IQs above 160 are introverts)
The bad news for introverts is that success in business and entrepreneurship is often at least partially driven by our ability to network. Certainly as an advisor to companies large and small, I have no choice but to invest a significant portion of my time in building and growing relationships.
If you are an introvert, I can guess what you are thinking:
- Networking is boring and painful (often true!)
- I feel awkward and stilted when I force myself to network (I know that feeling, believe me!)
- I have plenty of extroverts in my company; let them handle the networking. I can “outsource” relationship-building (wrong!)
Even if you are surrounded by extroverts, avoiding your own networking can be career-limiting. Simply put, your business and personal opportunities and successes are intimately tied to the relationships you build. To abdicate on networking is to limit your future possibilities.
Those are all fine and noble thoughts, but how should we introverts build and grow a network of relationships? Petrilli suggests the following:
Network on your own terms.
Commit to networking, but in a way you will find comfortable:
- Network one-on-one rather than in groups
- Look to create valuable, deep relationships with a modest number of valued leaders, rather than compiling a long Rolodex of superficial relationships
Create a comfortable environment for yourself.
Learn about the individual in advance and think through the ways you can help them and vice versa.
When I am going to meet a business contact for the first time, I try to picture the world from their perspective: their goals and motivations, their concerns and challenges, how they might view me and my company. That helps me to get comfortable before the meeting, and I can anticipate key topics and the direction of the conversation probably 90% of the time.
Leverage your skills as an introvert.
Odds are, you are a good listener. Prepare some questions in advance that can get the conversation going. Use email and social media to get the conversation started in advance and keep it going after the meeting.
Petrilli also gives tips on how introverts can become recognized for their contributions, survive interviews, get promoted, and lead teams. I particularly appreciated her advice to C-level introverts. As a C-level executive, so much of my effectiveness comes from the motivation and direction I can impart to my co-workers. I have really taken her advice to heart about letting my enthusiasm for my vision and ideas shine through.
*Hat tip to Robert Rose (Chief Troublemaker at Big Blue Moose) for that joke.
Note: This article was written by Bill Stewart, an expert in the fine art of introversion. Karl Stark has never been accused by anyone, anywhere, of being an introvert.
Are you an introvert? If so, what successes and challenges have you had in building your network of relationships? Please let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are Managing Directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself, and is ranked No. 95 on the 2011 Inc. 500 list. @karlstark