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Professional Networking: Networking For Shy People - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Networking For Shy People

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Networking For Shy People

It's become somewhat trendy to declare oneself an introvert on social media platforms, with accompanying links to articles, quizzes, or graphics. The Atlantic Monthly's most-forwarded link in its online history is an article called "Caring for Your Introvert," an explanation and guide for extroverts who love introverts. In some ways, this increased exposure to introversion is a positive sign, an indication that, in a world where introverts must either suffer being overlooked or behave more like extroverts, some amount of understanding may finally be counted on in social and professional settings. In some other ways, the growing acceptance of introversion means a lot of blurred lines and confusion.

Introversion is not shyness. Many shy people are extroverts, and many introverts aren't shy at all. Shyness has to do with discomfort in social situations, sometimes presenting itself as quietness, nervousness, anxiety, or fear. Introversion and extroversion have to do with where people recharge their personal energies. The concepts are related, with lots of overlap in people's makeups, but they are not equivalent, and shy professionals have enormous disadvantages in the networking arena. Toward a better understanding of shyness, we offer these networking tips for shy people.

  • Work those online networks. This is something we all need to do, but since you're less likely to jump into incidental conversations in the elevator lobby, you have to increase your efforts online. This means involving yourself in conversations on social media about professional topics that interest you, or bringing up new conversations and tagging people for feedback or advice. Find a provocative article in one of those lesser-traveled corners of the Internet (everybody shares links from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Grantland, and Forbes: be that person who shares content everyone else is missing!), share it on social media, and ask for input from others. Networking on social media is about engagement, but it's also about presence, so be present in a noticeable, meaningful way that makes others want to engage with you.
  • Show up for fundraisers, receptions, and networking events, even if you're sure nobody will speak to you. It's highly unlikely that you'll spend the whole time without being approached by someone, but even if you do, people will eventually recognize you as a friendly face (don't forget to smile!) and if they don't gravitate toward you this time, they will another. You've spent your whole life not being noticed, so this sounds like sketchy advice, but this approach does work, and it does eventually pay off, although you may need to take a deep breath and prepare yourself ahead of time to open up a little. You don't have to be an instigator, but you do have to smile and respond appropriately to introductions.
  • Wherever you are, play to the tendencies of non-shy people. People who approach you often just want you to get to know them, so get them talking about themselves, and keep them going with interesting questions about them. If you have difficulty getting this rolling on a first introduction, a great strategy is to repeat something they've just said, rephrasing it as a question. They say: "Have you tried the stuffed mushrooms? They're outstanding!" You say: "The stuffed mushrooms?" They say: "I saw this guy's work at the annual photo exhibit at city hall last spring." You say: "The annual photo exhibit?" or "You're familiar with his other work?" Social people don't even notice you're doing this, and pretty soon they're going into longer explanations, which give you more things to ask about. It won't be long before they think of you as a really interesting person, even if all you did was listen and repeat.
  • Be a wingman. In the world of dating, a wingman is a supportive friend who makes someone look interesting, someone who provides moral support. If you're planning to attend an event, find an outgoing friend who's interested in going too, and just stick with him or her. Even if all you do is smile and be introduced, you'll meet interesting people who might later become great contacts.
  • Follow up. This is important if you're mostly wallflowering at events. Your shyness doesn't come into play (as much) in emails or on social media, so follow up with interesting people. Start with "It was really nice meeting you Wednesday night," but get to "If you ever need ______________, I hope you'll feel free to reach out." If you want the conversation to continue, ask some follow-up question about something you spoke about earlier. Other good prompts: "I didn't think it was the right time to say it Wednesday, but I thought what you said about _____________ was really interesting." "I was a little too bashful to ask this Wednesday, but do you think _____________?" "Margaret says you went to school together. Do you also know ________________?"
  • Be a giver. This is a return to our recurring professional networking theme: networking is about relationships, not huge Rolodexes, and healthy relationships are giving relationships. Be the helpful friend, the connector, and the person who knows where to find stuff. Offer your assistance wherever you can. This requires initiative on your part, something many shy people have trouble with, but make yourself do it, and when you have a solid inner circle of professional acquaintances, your network will grow almost automatically, as people who value their relationships with you bring others in.

Let's face it: shyness is an unfair disadvantage in our world, but it doesn't have to limit your opportunities to forming good, healthy relationships with others. You have something to offer others; don't deny them the chance to embrace it.


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Professional Networking: Networking For Shy People - Executive Leadership Articles

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