They walk in the room, heads turn, they smile and effortlessly join a group in conversation before moving onto to another group, effortlessly entering that conversation as well. They repeat the process endless times making their way around the room with an easy smile, a word, and a few laughs.
They put people at ease, they listen, they engage in conversation, they get names and numbers, they form connections, they’ve networked.
It’s a rare skill, one many wish they possessed in this age of ephemeral connections to companies and co-workers whose tenure is much shorter than it was for older workers of decades past when workers stayed for many years, decades themselves, at the same business or job.
But it’s also a skill that even introverts can work on such that they too can build solid networks. People who know me well, know I’m really an introvert.
It’s that ability to learn the process, which is the core message of Karen Wickre’s new book, Taking the Work out of Networking. It doesn’t always come easy.
Wickre, who says she is an introvert, explained to the [email protected] Podcast that even though networking is “not fun for many people” there is a process she found when she thought about her own networking which others can follow.
The good news for introverts is that she says digital communication means that networking is “greatly enhanced”, noting “I do a lot of connecting online. If I had to fill my schedule with coffee dates and lunches, I would never make it”. But she says the key thing about networking is that unlike social media it’s “never a follower count”. So it’s not “not the size of the network; it’s who you know that is as helpful and thoughtful as you are”.
But how do you build that network if your not one of those natural extroverts?
Whether online or in person at events and meetings, Wickre says the idea that you have to go out and hunt for contacts is outdated. It’s not hunting she says but rather “farming” or “gardening”. And she has three simple tips to make it easier – based on her own observations.
She highlights three qualities that introverts share with people who want to network.
“Listen, observe, and be curious,” she says.
Listening comes natural to introverts she says because “most introverts never want to go first in the conversation. They want to wait and see what the other person has to say first, then wade into the water. It’s not just waiting for your turn. It is also taking in what the other person says and having some understanding of how they are and why they are”.
When it comes to the power of observation Wickre says introverts – and anyone else for the matter – can bring to bear the power people watching. Observing “behaviour and style” she says is “a wonderful skill for connecting so that you can correctly gauge characteristics. Is someone anxious? Are they open and friendly and candid? Are they worried?”
The third quality Wickre suggests as an integral skill for networking is curiosity when it comes to other people,. “Why are they the way they are? What got them to wherever they are in life?” She also says that what comes with curiosity is an openness to new connections.
That is, “the default answer should be “yes” if somebody says, “Would you meet my friend who has a question for you?” or “I want to put you two together because I think you’d like each other.” Just say yes. It doesn’t have to be yes today. It doesn’t have to be yes in person on a deadline. But make it more a yes than a no”.
Once you’ve built your network, while your building it, you need to maintain it. Like your garden.
But Wickre says this doesn’t have to be an onerous task. Rather she favours simple no pressure, “loose touch” connections with your network. The point is “ if they [a contact] come to mind for some reason, their team wins or loses, you want to just send a note saying, ‘Hey, great about last night, sorry about last night. How are you? Let’s catch up soon.’ That’s a moment of staying in touch. If you do that with six or eight people a day whose mental paths you cross, you’re in ‘loose touch’. They may respond, they may not”.
The point however, is that you network garden is maintained and when you do need some help, advice or assistance, you can say “Hey, I have a follow-up question for you, or When we have that catch-up call, here’s what I actually want to talk to you about”, Wickre says.
But please don’t send bland blanket emails with little or no real connection, “It’s one-to-one, but it’s not every day to the same person” she says.
Sounds like a plan. Now go network.