- Introverts may not always feel comfortable at large networking events but can manage their energy effectively to have good conversations there.
- Listening to engage and understand can lead to better conversations with a higher exchange of value.
- Introverts do like people, and many missed interaction with others during lockdowns.
- Introverts may not promise much but they will deliver on their promises.
It is natural to assume that extroverts find it easier to network and build professional relationships. Their outgoing personalities, comfort in conversation, and energy would seem to lend themselves naturally to getting to know strangers and developing relationships.
Is it, however, always correct to see extroverts as natural networkers and introverts as more likely to struggle and be out of their element?
The Right Environment
Context is an important starting point. Extroverts get their energy from other people, therefore a networking event bustling with different conversations and lots of opportunities to approach potential new contacts would feel like a natural habitat for more gregarious individuals.
But networking is not necessarily all about networking events and conferences. They are a useful resource to help you meet new people in a controlled environment or to catch up with existing contacts in an efficient way—seeing a number of people in the same place at the same time, rather than arranging a series of coffee catch-ups. But they are not the only way to build and nurture relationships.
There are alternatives to going to conferences, but sometimes large events are unavoidable. Perhaps the more deliberative, considered approach that introverts take to such events is something that others can learn from.
South African futurist Graeme Codrington is a self-confessed "off the scale" introvert. He told me that his approach to attending large events is a question of managing his energy effectively. Graeme said, “Whatever I engage in, my entire decision-making process is, ‘How much energy is this going to cost me?’
“It actually puts me in a much better space to be deliberate about the value transfer. I'm quite deliberate about saying, is this a valuable thing? And not just valuable to me: Am I adding value? What's the quickest, easiest way for me to add value, get value in the situation, and then get out? I'm not just there to see what happens.”
Listening with Intent
Graeme accepts that there is both an upside and a downside to this approach. It is important not to be too blinkered or transactional in your approach to such events, scouring attendee lists and only speaking to predetermined delegates you feel are relevant to you. But a focused approach to each individual conversation leads to much more active listening and consideration of what the other person is saying.
“As an introvert, you're better at listening,” Graeme argues. “I think you listen in order to engage rather than just listen in order to respond. And so you're trying to understand. It’s not that there isn’t small talk, but it’s more intentional to get to the value faster. We don't like small talk unless the small talk is leading somewhere or is interesting.”
Giving some thought to the quality of the conversation at events would lead to an immediate leap in the value exchange of so many conference exchanges. Moving away from the banal networking dance of "What do you do?" and elevator pitch exchange to more meaningful discussions facilitates rapport. Considered questions and active listening can support this.
Introverts Do Like People…It’s Just How Much
There’s a trap that’s easy to fall into of generalising the differences between introverts and extroverts, focusing on the two extremes and assuming that the former don’t like being around people. That’s not a fair representation. We are all somewhere on an introvert-extrovert scale and many of us enjoy finding the right balance between our own company and being around other people.
Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., author of The Introverted Leader, surveyed 200 people who self-identified as introverts. "Almost half said that they missed that opportunity to get to know people outside their team (during the pandemic)," she reports "Introverts do like and need people, it’s just how much. People were saying they were feeling isolated—it was socialisation but also collaboration on projects. That’s how people build relationships.”
Kahnweiler's point is supported by Jon Baker, who carried out a similar survey during the pandemic. “My survey would show that there are many introverts who enjoyed not being in the office, surrounded by people all of the time. At the same time, 45% of people were saying they were really missing connections with other people.
“As an introvert myself, the good thing during the pandemic was the ability to deepen relationships with people I already know—reaching out to them and spending quality time with them. At the same time, I missed some of the events of meeting up with people. I like being with people at times, in small amounts, in my own little way.”
Delivering on Promises
Ultimately, Graeme Codrington contends, the focus of introverts on the value exchange in conversations means that interaction with an introvert can be more rewarding. “What extroverts give you is lots of energy and excitement and promise you the world but not deliver much. And that's fine. We love them all.
“But what introverts will do is not promise you much but actually do it. And so, in a networking environment, what I've been encouraged to do is to just be aware of the fact that I don't promise much, but I do everything I promise. And I think that makes me a good networker.”
Kahnweiler, Jennifer (2021). Remote Work and Introverts: Strong Approval with Some Caveats.
Baker, Jon (2022). Why You Should Understand Introversion.