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October, 2012

Effective networking is an introvert's game 

I am often surprised by introverts claiming how much they hate networking, feeling the energy drain of large groups, when in reality their approach is the most effective. 

 

As a self-proclaimed extrovert I have learned the hard way that networking is not about being energized, overly social or being able to talk to anyone.  It is more about the ability to foster a meaningful and engaging conversation with one or two individuals without the distraction of the larger group dynamics. 

 

After all, this is exactly what introverts do best. 

 

Contrary to this, an extrovert's natural tendency is to touch base with as many people as possible with friendly, small talk dialogue.  This approach works directly against effective networking.

 

Since having my own business and relying on networking as an important means for growth, I have learned the importance of taming my "social butterfly" impulses and locking into a conversation by being fully present with the person in front of me. Being the life of the party does not enable anyone to meaningfully connect with another person. 

 

So listen up extroverts, we have a lot to learn from introverts.  And introverts, be sure to hone your craft and don't let any extroverts derail your efforts.

 

Networking allows a foundation to be built onto which you can continue to build trust and rapport.  It has nothing to do with the quantity of people you meet, but rather the quality of the exchange that matters.   It isn't about passing out business cards as if they were coupons to every person you see or working the room to get to the person with the greatest clout.

 

As I attend networking functions and events, if someone gives me their card without us having a conversation, I simply throw the card out.  Likewise, I never give out a business card unless I have had a discussion with someone and believe that a relationship could be built.   My internal measure that I use is that if I can't see investing more time with this person over coffee or lunch, I won't bother them with giving them a business card or asking them for theirs. 

 

After all, the question of time investment is a critical one, because without a long term view, networking becomes a nuisance to everyone involved. There is nothing more off-putting than being approached by someone where you can spot their agenda a mile away.  Are they willing to spend the time to get to know you, or not?  If not, then it isn't a networking opportunity, it's a cold call. 

 

Connections take time and business building takes time.  It isn't about the cold call or the blanket approach.  It is about care and consistency.

 

I was at an event about a year and a half ago. I arrived early and was waiting for the doors to open in order to go into the banquet room.  A woman standing beside me was on her phone checking email. I was a bit bored just standing there so I struck up a conversation with her by simply inquiring if she had previously attended this event in the past.  We ended up engrossed in conversation that lasted the entire evening.  I enjoyed getting to know her and genuinely felt a connection.  I was curious about her life, her work and where and what she had done previously to the work she now was doing.  I didn't once think or direct our conversation towards "can I sell her my services', "can she be a new client", or "How can she help me."

  

I also knew that at the event there was a great deal of corporate "buyers" in attendance. However, I chose not to "mingle and work the room" because I was focused on creating a foundation and a relationship.  With our conversation, others were drawn to us and throughout the evening others came and went to participate in the conversation.  Many were meaningful connections, others were not.

 

When the evening ended I really felt like I met a new friend.  We exchanged cards and promised to connect over coffee. 

 

A week later we met over coffee.  I didn't know when we scheduled our time together that she was interested in working with me.  But I learned during our meeting that she was looking for an executive coach and she had grown fond of me during the time we had connected.  I prepared a proposal per her request and we proceeded to work together over the next 3-4 months.  Not only did I find a new client, I have built a relationship that will sponsor me and my business.

 

This experience, along with many others like it, has solidified for me some key lessons to keep in mind about networking as an introvert (and yes, extroverts can adapt):

  1. It's not about you.  Don't be so quick to tell people who you are. Instead, show them who you are by how you are engaged, curious and interested in them. 
  2. When you are engaged others want to join you.  Ironically, you can attract more conversations with people when you are already engaged and staying in one place.  People want to join others that are having fun, engaged and in discussion. 
  3. Don't judge the connection.  Too often in networking people are on a mission and immediately decide if the person has the kind of role or connections that can help them.  The minute you judge the potential connection is the minute you have lost your ability to network effectively.  Unlikely relationships can often provide the strongest results.
  4. Nurture connections. Networking is a long term proposition. The most effective networking is when you don't need it.  Build your connections in an authentic and meaningful manner over time. 
  5. Less is definitely more.  A few strong connections are better than a wide group of acquaintances in the long run.  

 Join The Texas Women Who Rock on December 6 for another great session that will help you to learn how to ask for what you want.  Find out more about "Getting the Most from Your Resources."

 

Are you interested in developing yourself as a better leader and understanding what your next step should be? Consider one-on-one business coaching to help you get clear on what's next and how to position yourself for success. Contact Laura for some customized and personalized coaching.   

 

Laura Lopez is an award-winning author of The Connected and Committed Leader.  She is also a consultant, and a Birkman Method certified business coach who has been featured on the Today Show ,Latina Voices Smart Talk, Living Smart and Fox News

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In addition, her accomplishments have been highlighted in several business periodicals including  Personal Excellence, The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her articles on management and leadership are regularly seen in Leadership Excellence. 

Laura can be contacted via her Web site at:

 


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All the best,
 
Laura Lopez
 
Laura Lopez & Company
www.Laura-Lopez.com
(713) 868-5025
cell (713) 828-8829