This summer, a key finding emerged from my career transformation course The Amazing Career Project that truly surprised me. In this session, there are 75 members from around the world, and 30 have signed up so far for private career consulting to receive an added level of support. Of these 30 clients, the vast majority (90%) self-report as introverts. And in the past five years, scores of introverts have revealed to me (often with some shame, embarrassment and frustration) that they struggle to engage in activities that are commonly prescribed as essential for professional success, including, “power networking,” socializing outside of work with colleagues, public speaking and presenting, leading groups, broadcasting your talents, and connecting with strangers via social media, to name a few.
Just for the record, I want to share an important description of the extroversion/introversion issue, from Susan Cain, a recognized author and expert on introversion, and a leader in the “Quiet Revolution” (check out her thought-provoking TED talk The Power of Introverts). Susan has shared this about introverts highlighting how overlooked they are and feel in today’s extroverted world:
Depending on which study you consult, one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts — in other words, one out of every two or three people you know… If these statistics surprise you, that’s probably because so many people pretend to be extroverts…It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk- taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups.
We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual — the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.
While introverts rightly resist being held to an ill-fitting standard, professionals today do indeed need to find a way to muster the energy and courage to network and build a powerful support community. If they don’t, they’ll miss out on critical advice, feedback, mentorship and sponsorship essential for their growth.
To learn more about how introverts can network successfully (even if they hate it), I caught up with Dorie Clark, the author of Reinventing You and a great new book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Dorie teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and is a consultant and speaker for clients such as Google, Morgan Stanley and the World Bank. I’ve seen Dorie in action as a networker and true connector, and her approach is empowering and enlivening for everyone involved.
Here’s what Dorie shares:
Kathy Caprino: Dorie, would you consider yourself an introvert?
Dorie Clark: I definitely consider myself an introvert. I enjoy connecting with people and organizing events, but I really need to rest up afterward. If I have to be ‘on’ for too long, it gets incredibly psychologically tiring for me. I’ll notice myself getting irritable and need to recharge (by being alone, reading, etc.) in order to be able to enjoy myself again and be a good guest or host.
Caprino: What’s your best advice for someone who hates networking?
Clark: The most important thing to understand is that there isn’t one right way to do networking – certainly not just attending the archetypal “networking event” where you trade business cards with strangers. In fact, that’s one of the least effective ways to network. Instead, introverts can play to their strengths by inviting people for 1-1 coffees, hosting small dinner gatherings, or even “networking” online by writing blog posts and attracting others to them. All of those strategies are far less emotionally exhausting than having to go up to strangers and make small talk.
Caprino: What can introverts do to reach out to strangers more successfully?
Clark: The first thing introverts can do is ensure they’re talking to fewer strangers in the first place. There are plenty of new and interesting people to meet who already have some connection to you, so ask for suggestions from friends and colleagues about who they know that they think you should connect with. Or go through your friends’ LinkedIn profiles, identify interesting contacts they have, and ask for an introduction. I often host joint dinner parties with a friend where I invite 3-4 people and he does the same, so I’m meeting strangers but in a controlled setting where we have someone in common and he can help facilitate the conversation. When you already have a connection with someone, it’s far easier to feel comfortable and enjoy building the relationship.
Caprino: How can we make a favorable impression right away?
Clark: When I interviewed famed psychologist Robert Cialdini, whom I profiled in my new e-book Stand Out Networking, he told me the best way to make a favorable impression is to find a commonality with the person you’re talking to – as quickly as possible. If you know who is going to attend in advance (if an event guest list has been published), you can do a bit of online research and look for things you have in common. And if you’re meeting someone blind, you can still try to steer the conversation to discover shared interests, whether it’s a hobby, an alma mater, the neighborhood where you live, where your kids go to school, etc. This immediately helps the person view you as part of their circle – an “us” rather than a “them.”
Caprino: What’s the best way to build a networking relationship online?
Clark: The key in online networking is to realize it’s not an end unto itself. It can be a good starting point; for instance, I have friends who first reached out to me on Twitter and we subsequently built relationships. It can also be a great way to stay in touch with people you already know and to keep yourself top of mind; a quick tweet or message on LinkedIn is a nice way to share interesting articles, compliment someone if they published an interesting article, or the like. But on its own, that’s not enough.
At some point, you need to connect in person. If you’re heading to a conference, think about which online contacts in your industry might also be there and invite them for a cup of coffee. If you’re taking a vacation or business trip to a certain city, look in your database to see who lives there that you’d like to meet. That’s what cements online relationships for life.
Caprino: How can you identify immediately the people you stay away from?
Clark: Recent research has shown the important role of the “second brain” in your stomach – the source of “gut feelings.” If someone is making you uncomfortable for any reason – they’re talking way too much about themselves, engaging in over-the-top boasting, or seem sketchy in some way – then listen to your instinct and move along to networking with someone who feels more simpatico. Life’s too short to waste time on people you don’t enjoy.
Caprino: Finally, what role does luck play in networking and how can you increase your luck?
Clark: In Stand Out, I profiled Anthony Tjan, a venture capitalist who co-authored a book called Hearts, Smarts, Guts, and Luck that sought to understand the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and top executives. Interestingly, a substantial portion – a full 25% of these successful leaders – self-identified as ‘lucky.’ That might sound strange or somehow self-deprecating. Are they saying they didn’t deserve their success or weren’t qualified for it? But actually, the story is far more interesting.
It turns out that what is understood as ‘luck’ is actually the combination of two other powerful attitudes that anyone can cultivate: curiosity and humility. Many people are so focused on the goal at hand – I have to meet this person, so they can do XYZ for me!– they often overlook the other interesting people around them.
In contrast, the luck-driven entrepreneurs are curious about others and humble enough to realize they have a lot to learn from everyone, whether or not that person is a famous journalist or a top VC or just a ‘regular person.’ Because surprisingly often, that ‘regular person’ may be exactly who you need in your life a year or five years or 10 years down the road, but everyone else ignored them. It’s very possible to increase your luck, if you’re willing to be curious and humble about those around you.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Photo by Joel Veak courtesy of dorieclark.com