Introverts would tend see networking as something they hate to do. But our research suggests that introverted networking can be powerful and an approach that an extrovert, like myself, should learn to emulate, at least part of the time. Rather than working a room the way an extrovert would, speaking to many people for a short time each, introverts often speak to fewer people but have longer, more detailed and richer conversations. Those conversations, which often go beyond the superficial, can lead to relationships lasting after the event instead of manifesting in a mere follow-up e-mail blast. When you add the power and reach of LinkedIn profiles, you can see even more oomph to networking like an introvert.
For my forthcoming book, Quiet Leaders: Introverts in the Executive Suite I sat down with one of Canada’s most experienced CEOs, one half of Canada’s most powerful power couples. We discussed how he and his wife network – very differently from each other, it turns out. His wife, a very typical extrovert (like myself), works the whole room and goes to virtually every table, spending a couple of minutes with each group. She has a great personality. Everyone knows who she is, and people are keen to speak with her. There is often laughter, and people are charmed. However, often little of substance is actually exchanged. That is not a criticism – she is a very thoughtful leader; it is simply the nature of how she and I network at big events like this one. The way extroverts network leaves too little time to have in-depth conversations.
Her husband, the quintessential introverted CEO, approaches networking at events very differently. He talks to a small number of people, perhaps only a couple at dinner and a couple before or afterward. His wife says he should work the room like she does. He disagrees – and I think he is right.
The wonderful advantage of how he networks is that at the end of an evening, he’s had in-depth, substantial conversations with a handful of people who are genuinely thrilled that a billionaire gave them his undivided attention for 20-30 minutes. If he reaches out to them in the future, they will agree to connect – and most likely with pleasure – partly because of who he is, but mainly because there was the foundation of a relationship planted at the event.
Are you an introverted leader?
One of the most effective tools I’ve seen to complement introverted networking is LinkedIn. One of the great things about LinkedIn for introverts is that they can send one-on-one messages in the quiet of their own offices or homes, whenever is convenient. This is a great way for an introvert to reach out to others as they look to connect and grow their network.
Suppose you can see a guest list of who is attending an upcoming networking event. An excellent idea for a more introverted person (or a more extroverted one too, come to think about it) is to focus their efforts on connecting with a small number of people. With LinkedIn, you can quickly go through dozens of people, see who is a more natural fit with your interests, and then pick out the small number of people with whom you’d want to spend some quality time – people who might become a genuine part of your network.
I would even consider connecting with them on LinkedIn or sending them a message to let them know that you will be at the event and would be delighted to chat with them about a particular topic. Perhaps you could send a link to an article the person might find interesting or useful. This kind of thoughtful research and knowledge about networking prospects impresses most people. After receiving your note, taking a look at your LinkedIn profile, and seeing the possible points of connection, they will most likely want to meet with you, too.
Introverts often approach networking very differently to extroverts. Through interviewing hundreds of senior leaders who are introverts, I am growing more convinced that as an extrovert, I need to emulate introverted networking and learn to connect with others on a deeper level more effectively.