If networking makes you nervous, you may be an introvert. Happy to be alone with their thoughts, introverts can be at a disadvantage in a culture that values constant connection. There are some ways to be an introvert and have your network, too.
There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who love nothing more than networking - people for whom the social hour is the high point of the event, people who move effortlessly from one table to another at the holiday party. And then there the rest of us: the introverts.
Introverts and extroverts have a basic, hard-wired difference in energy flow. Extroverts thrive on interaction and are bored by solitude. For introverts, even the most enjoyable social events are draining. Most estimates put introverts at less than 30 percent of the population. In addition, extroverts are so much more visible - and audible - in any business or social setting. No wonder introverts can start to feel hopelessly out of step.
Still, being an introvert doesn't let anyone take a pass on networking. Happily, there are ways for introverts to network while remaining true to their personality.
Look and listen
At social events, give yourself permission to arrive a bit late and leave early. Stay at the edges of the crowd for a while, observing the scene, and engage once you feel comfortable. Marti Olsen Laney, author of "The Introvert Advantage," suggests wearing an interesting piece of jewelry or a tie that people can comment on. Introverts tend to do better once there's a topic on the table: "Why, thank you - I got this pin on my trip to Borneo."
Best of all, introverts tend to be good listeners. In a roomful of people vying for attention, you can be a hit if you're the one showing a genuine interest in what other people have to say.
Introverts are task-oriented. They prefer to have smaller circles of close connections. When you're looking to expand your circle, find a group or organization that can put you to work. Offer to take notes at the meeting or photograph the event. Coming in early to help set up avoids the painful moment of "making an entrance." Write or design the newsletter, or balance the books. These are the tasks that extroverts find boring, so they'll be grateful.
Introverts need to think before speaking. That makes writing a more natural medium than conversation. You can stay connected by forwarding links to articles or information of interest to people you know. (If you're an introvert, chances are you spend a lot of your time absorbing information. Good networking is just a matter of sharing it.) If you don't feel comfortable speaking up in the meeting, follow up with a thoughtful reflection or summary afterwards (just avoid undercutting decisions that have already been made).
Almost every introvert can function as an extrovert if the need arises. Just realize that it will be tiring, and give yourself some time to recover.
If you're wondering where you fit on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, you can take a quick test to find out at humanmetrics.com. For more about how to manage being an introvert, in life and work, visit Laney's website at theintrovertadvantage.com.