Introvert Networking

How to stop worrying about “who you know”

It never fails – I have a networking event to attend in an hour and I’m desperately searching for any credible reason to back out.  But deep down, I know I shouldn’t and I know I won’t.  Why is it that 2 weeks ago when I eagerly signed up for this event it sounded like a great opportunity and today it feels like I’m marching into a firing squad?

As an introvert, networking is the most difficult professional responsibility for me. But as we all know, it is absolutely critical for professional growth. For years, I had been brainwashed to believe that advancement is dependent on “who you know.”  So, I forced myself to attend the networking events, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries with influencers, all the while wishing I could hide in the bathroom until it was time to leave. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like talking to people.  I love having long, meaningful conversations with people and getting to know them and connecting with them.  Asking questions and listening to understand is one of my strongest skills.  But most networking events just aren’t conducive to this type of interaction.

It wasn’t until recently that a very wise professor and mentor shifted my paradigm.  He said “it’s not who you know, but rather who knows you and what they think of you.”  Could that really be true?  The analyzer in me was skeptical, so I decided to do a little informal research.  So I simply looked around and watched others’ interactions.  I saw many of the extroverts working the room, moving from person to person, seemingly experts in the art of networking.  But when I was able to pull my eyes away from them, I saw others around the room, engaged in quiet conversations.  These individuals seemed to be focused on solving the world’s problems and oblivious to others in the room.

Later, when I was back in the comfort of my office, I started thinking about my professional network.  In the past few months I had made a handful of deep connections with people I respected and whose relationships I valued.  I know I can call or email these individuals with a question or request for advice and I will get a meaningful response. This realization made me feel like a ton of bricks had been lifted from my shoulders! Suddenly, I was able to focus on the quality of my networking interactions and stop beating myself up over the quantity of them.

Now when I get that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when attending a network event, I try a new approach.  I strive to be myself and forget about “working the room”.  Instead I find the two or three people I already know and use this time to deepen my relationship with them.  Sometimes these “safe” interactions give me enough courage to shake one new hand and sometimes they don’t.  But when they don’t, I refuse to beat myself up; instead I celebrate the small victories.  Because for an introvert like me, sometimes just showing up is the biggest victory! 

  • On November 3, 2017