Learn to Love Networking

By: Summer Faust

Networking is not a one-size-fits-all activity. That's why author Devora Zack says introverts and extroverts shouldn't schmooze the same way. Learn how every personality type can become a better networker.

Think back to your last networking event. Did you work the room collecting business cards or quietly monitor the selection of dips delivered from the kitchen? Card collector: You're probably an extrovert. Dip monitor: You're likely an introvert.

Whoever you are, Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, wants you to know it's OK to be true to yourself, but she has some advice that will keep you away from the dip and make sure those 10 business cards you collected don't gather dust in your Rolodex.

Associations Now: What would people be surprised to learn about introverts?

Devora Zack: I think the biggest surprise is that introverts are not at all necessarily insecure. There's a big stereotype that if they only got their acts together they could learn to be extroverts, which is just totally unhealthy and inaccurate. Another stereotype is that introverts are somehow lower energy. There's no correlation between whether someone is energetic or positive or upbeat or Type A or Type B personality and whether someone is an introvert or extrovert.

There's only three factors that distinguish introversion from extroversion. One is that introverts think to talk, and extroverts talk to think. So introverts have to think to know what they want to say. And extroverts have to actually talk in order to know what they're thinking, and that's a huge difference, and it's one of the primary differences.

The second is that introverts go deep, and extroverts go wide, and that just means introverts prefer fewer stimuli around fewer people—deeper relationships but fewer friends. They have fewer interests, but they go deeper into those interests. Extroverts go wide. They like a lot of people, a lot of activity, a lot of action. And the third difference is that introverts energize alone and extroverts energize with other people.

Introverts, in fact, have amazing skills to be incredible networkers. However, that only works if they work with instead of fighting against their natural temperament. If an introvert tries to network like an extrovert, they will crash and burn and fail, which is why so many introverts think they're bad networkers, because they're following the wrong rules.

You introduce another personality type called centroverts. Can you explain the characteristics of centroverts?

It's important to recognize that any personality dimension, like introversion, extroversion, is, in fact, a continuum. There's an infinite amount of people with many aspects to their personality. This book focuses on one important aspect for communication. And we need to think of it as a continuum. So there's really strong introverts, moderate introverts, slight introverts, and the same for extroverts. And there are people who are either right down the middle or very close to being in the middle. And until the creation of this new term, the centrovert, what people's perception was is that people in the middle were somehow wishy-washy or didn't have a strong personality or couldn't stand up for themselves, when in fact the reverse was true. The people who are in the middle or close to the middle on the introvert-extrovert dimension, we now call them centroverts, and they have amazing skills because they're very good at mediating. They're good at facilitating. They're good at managing conflicts because they can naturally understand both sides of the spectrum.

You say that introverts can utilize their innate skills and traits to their advantage. What are those innate traits?

First of all, you will only succeed in networking—and whatever you're networking for, whatever your goal is, whether it's to find a job or to find a friend or to change a career—if you are authentic. You absolutely have to be authentic to succeed in networking. And again, this goes against what a lot of people think of when they think of networking. Some people think networking means small talk or schmoozing or somehow tricking people into selling yourself or shameless self-promotion. In fact, real networking is about building meaningful connections one person at a time, so you have to be authentic.

Introverts prefer a defined role. That's why another stereotype that gets broken in my book is that some people think introverts can't do public speaking or lead a group, and in fact introverts prefer a defined role, so many introverts prefer running a group or leading a group to being a participant in a group. So knowing that and honoring that, an introvert's strategy is to volunteer at a networking event because it's not that introverts can't speak to people. It's just they need something specific to speak about. So if you're a volunteer, you have a defined role. You have a part to play in the event, and it's much easier to talk to people, so it's one example of a specific strategy.

A main takeaway from the book is that networking is not a one-size-fits-all activity, and so it's OK to not enjoy attending events or collecting business cards. But those are essentially the unwritten rules of networking. How do you think networking expectations should be modified?

Not only is it OK to not do that, it's better to not do that for most of the general population. It is better to not collect so many cards. Less really is more, which is a huge departure from traditional networking advice, which says more is more and to get out there as much as possible, and to eat all your meals with other people, and to have constant contact.

That works for about 30 percent of the general population. But in fact, to do less and to go deeper works better for most of us. So to collect three business cards at an event and to follow up personally with all those three people is a much stronger networking approach than to collect 30 cards and to follow up with no one. And when you collect 30 cards, you're much less likely to follow up with anyone. Not to mention the fact that you probably won't remember who those people are within a day or two, and frankly they won't remember who you are either because you have more fleeting, superficial connections with them as opposed to deeper, meaningful connections.

You also mention how important it is to have an elevator speech about yourself. How do you create one that is informative and engaging but isn't too self-promoting?

The way to make the speech isn't to talk about how great you are, which introverts are generally uncomfortable with. I always encourage people to talk about what makes them excited, what they love about their work. If I say, "You know what, I am just so good at helping people understand themselves," that's not so compelling to you. If I stay instead, "I love my work because I hear from people how they really have changed their lives based on understanding themselves," not only is that me telling you something that's more authentic, but my whole face lights up. My voice gets excited. And if I am excited by something, so are you.

So really telling people what you love, I find, is a really great approach to the foundation of an elevator speech. And another thing to remember is that an elevator speech is not the same thing as saying your bio. So don't tell them facts about yourself. Tell them a quick story or something you care about. Show your passion. Show your interest. Tell them something that's exciting to you. Not what you do but why you do what you do.

An example you provide of a good networking opportunity is on an airplane and striking up a conversation with your seatmate. What are some other unexpected networking opportunities that can come up?

Well, for better or for worse, life is a networking event. And that's good for people who hate networking events. If you hate networking events, go to one a year and forget about it. But most networking can actually take place outside of networking events. It's good, but it also can be a little bit stressful and thinking, "Oh, my gosh, I always have to be on."

And particularly if you're looking for a job or you're looking to make a life change, the truth is, yeah, you always have to be on because you never know who is in front of you. You just never know. And—even though I'm so supposedly intuitive and I know so much about personality and I pick up on cues—I am always surprised too about how I don't always know who is going to make a difference in my life and whose life I'll make a difference in. So any situation at all, it doesn't mean you have to chat with everyone you see, because that's not comfortable for an introvert either. But just know that, if you have a snap judgment about someone that they either won't be helpful to you or they're not important, just decide that you're wrong and give that person a couple minutes of your time.

An example is if you go to a company party, and you just got done talking to someone's spouse, and you're like, "Well, how can a spouse be helpful? They're not even in the company." You never know. So the main thing is to focus on the person in front of you and to make the assumption that person's supposed to be in front of you for some reason. It might be a big reason. It might be a small reason. But when you're with someone, focus on [her]. A big mistake people make is to be distracted or to write people off too soon, and they'll never know what opportunities they might have lost.

Can you share some unexpected networking tips?

I don't know if it's unexpected, but it's one that most people don't think of and it's super useful, and that is when you're at a networking event always have a pen with you. When you finish meeting someone, take their card and go off, it doesn't have to be all by yourself. Just go stand at a table or something and write down a couple facts about the person on the front of their business card.

This is useful for two reasons: One is that if you're an introvert or a centrovert, it gives you a couple of minutes in between conversations to be alone that you're writing, and you have a purpose. You're not just staring into space, so it gives you a little bit of downtime in between conversations. Another reason, which is why this is important even for extroverts, is that we tend to overestimate our own memories, and we think that we'll remember people. Like, "Oh, you made a really good impression on me. I'll definitely remember you the next day." And two days from now I'm like, "Summer? Where did I meet her again?"

We forget about 50 percent of what we hear within 48 hours. So even though you might think someone seemed really great, you won't remember who they are very soon. So instead of just having a pile of business cards, you're looking at a card and it says how to pronounce the person's name or what her hobby is or a project she's working on, so your follow-up will be specific and sincere as opposed to generic and just saying, "Hey, great meeting you," which really doesn't go that far.

What about social media? What's the best way to utilize social media and what is its role in networking?

Well, social media at this point is overused in networking. So first of all, introverts and extroverts use social media differently. In general, introverts have fewer connections, like on LinkedIn or Facebook. However, the connections seem to go deeper. So an introvert might have 70 connections [and] an extrovert might have 4,000 connections, but they don't really know who all those people are. An introvert will really know who they are.

And if you need to call on your community or your connections, they'll respond more because it's actually a real connection you have with them. Now, unfortunately, because social media is so easy, a lot of people use it and think that that's networking, so I may send out a blast to a whole bunch of people and think, "Well, I told them that I'm looking for a job," but it's not as effective as meeting people face to face, making a human connection one on one. Because just like it's easy for you to hit a button and send something, a resume out, to thousands of people, it's just as easy for everyone else to do that as well.

So it absolutely has a role. It's just it does not replace face-to-face interactions. There's nothing like that human connection, and I would say at least 70 percent of your network[ing] time should be face to face.

Summer Faust is project editor for ASAE. Email: [email protected]

Online Extra Q&A: The Platinum Rule

Associations Now: It's inevitable that introverts and extroverts are going to be working together, as well as centroverts, on a regular basis. What is your advice for each type of person when it comes to working together, and how can you identify what type of personality your colleague is?

Devora Zack: The first step [is] picking up on the subtle cues and clues that people are constantly bombarding us with about what their preferences are. And once you get used to picking up on these cues and clues, it can be a lot of fun to start to pick up on what people say and what that says about them, and the way they move and the way their tone may shift.

For example, a woman came up to me at the end of an event and said, "Thank you so much. That was great. You gave us so much to talk about on the way home." Immediately I knew she was an extrovert because if she had been an introvert she would have said, "Thank you so much. You gave me so much to think about on the way home."

It's fun to start noticing how people show their preferences in ways that most people miss just because they're thinking about other things. Someone who was interviewing me said, before the interview officially started, "So, we're going to ask you a lot of questions about how to manage network events because obviously everyone hates those." I'm thinking, this person's an introvert, because an extrovert would say it's their favorite part of the job, the networking.

So the first step is noticing things. And you're still going to get it wrong sometimes, but you're going to get it right a whole lot more if you are focusing on people.

The next step is applying what I call in the book the platinum rule. It's to treat others how they want to be treated, as opposed to the golden rule, which is to treat others how you want to be treated. If you, for example, are out of the office for two weeks and you come back, as an introvert you wouldn't want attention drawn to yourself. But as an extrovert, if you're not greeted by me in a way that shows interest in you, you're going to think that I'm not friendly.

So I would flex my style and say to you, "Hey, welcome back. Is everything OK? Did you have a good time?" And you're going to feel welcome, like I care about you. As an introvert, you might prefer that I just say "hi" and keep walking, because you're not going to be comfortable talking about yourself in the hallway.

In order to succeed at this platinum rule, you have to learn how to figure out what other people's personality styles are, and then meet them where they're at.

You mentioned a few ways that you can identify what people's personalities are just by listening closely. Are there any other tips that you would give people?

In a situation where you need to interact with people that you don't know at all, like at a networking event, what I recommend is ask an open-ended question and notice how detailed that person gets in their response. An introvert is likely to give less detail and be more general because they might not be as comfortable talking about something personal to a stranger, someone they've just met.  An extrovert is going to go right in and start talking in a lot more detail.

Another piece of unexpected advice is about when you're asking people for a favor: Never ask for a favor on Monday. People tend to be grumpier, more behind, less likely to follow up, and overwhelmed on Mondays. The best days to ask for favors are Thursdays or Fridays. You're going to be much more likely to get positive responses. So even though I have a rule to follow up within two days [of meeting someone], the only exception to that rule is if that day is a Monday. If I meet you Saturday night at an event, I'll wait until Tuesday to follow up if there is something that I'm asking you for.