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You Have to Be An Extrovert to Succeed at Networking…Or Do You?

A common assumption is that an extroverted “people person” is the best type of networker. But this isn’t necessarily true. Most people who have started their own businesses and who depend directly on others buying their products or services have at least a certain comfort level in dealing with people. They may not be outgoing or gregarious, but they can form meaningful relationships and communicate their ideas. A lot of people are like that, and for them, referral marketing is the best way to build their business, because referral marketing is marketing through relationships.

Networking is truly a two-part process. First, you have to meet someone new, and be prepared to share information about yourself that will be of interest to the person you have just met, whether for the person him or herself, or for someone in the network of the person you have just met. The extrovert may be better at the first part of the process—meeting someone new.  But, the introvert is better at the second part—listening to the person he or she just met.

Far too often, though, introverts literally eliminate themselves from the benefits that come from networking and relationship building, because they aren’t comfortable with initializing conversations in the first place.  This is unfortunate…because they are better at the part that is more important to the relationship process!

Yes, it’s true! The type of networking I recommend can actually be easier for the introvert than for the extrovert. If this doesn’t make sense to you, think about it this way: Networking is about building relationships.

It’s important to point out here that even introverts (or should we say especially introverts) have relationships. There is a vital difference in the ways the extrovert and introvert build relationships:

The extrovert wants to talk about himself, while the introvert wants other people to talk.

The introvert is perfect when it comes to building relationships. A good networker has two ears and one mouth…and uses each proportionally. A good networker asks questions and gets to know the other person. And once he knows the other person, it is so much easier to formulate a solution (that he can provide) to solve a problem, or ease a concern.

One evening in a dinner conversation with my wife, I mentioned something about my being an extrovert. She looked over at me and said, “Um, honey, I hate to break it to you but, you’re an introvert.”

I smiled and said, “Yeah sure, I’m an introvert [insert laugh track here].”

She then looked at me quite earnestly and said, “No, really you’re an introvert.”

“Come on,” I protested. “I’m a public speaker and founder of the world’s largest networking organization – I’m not an introvert!  I can’t be.  I mean, you’re joking, right?”

She absolutely insisted that I was an introvert, and proceeded to share with me all the ways that I have introverted tendencies.

I have to admit I was taken aback.  That day, I found a test on the Internet that tells you whether you are an introvert or extrovert.  Was I in for a shock:  The test said that I was a “situational extrovert!”  It explained that I was something of a loner that was reserved around strangers, but very outgoing in the right context.

In the haze of my surprise, some very important things came into clarity for me.   It struck me that the reason I started the BNI networking organization almost three decades  ago was because I was naturally uncomfortable meeting new people. The smaller, more intimate approach to building a network created a “system” that enabled me to meet people in an organized, structured networking environment that did not require that I actually “talk to strangers.”

When I visit regions, I ask the local Director to have someone walk me around and introduce me to visitors and members so that I can connect with as many people as possible. But in reality, it’s because I’m uncomfortable walking around introducing myself alone!

So if you’re also introverted, stop using that as an excuse not to network. Introverts can actually be more adept than extroverts at the art of networking, because they are comfortable listening to other people. In turn, this helps them make true long-term connections with others.

Making Networking Easier

Over many years of teaching people the art of networking, I’ve learned that there are many techniques that can be used to make the process easier—especially for those who are a bit introverted. Put these to work for yourself:

1. If you feel uncomfortable walking up to total strangers at a chamber business mixer, you can volunteer to be an ambassador for that group. In this role, you are in effect a host for the chamber, which makes it easier and more natural for you to greet people and say, “Welcome to our event. My name is [Ivan Misner]. I’m an ambassador for the chamber. . . .” Before you know it, the ice is broken, and you’re engaged in conversation!

(See, this whole notion of “acting like the host, not the guest” is the way that I have always used to move around more comfortably at networking events!)

2. Many opportunities abound to learn the art of network and often in places you may not have considered. Do you do volunteer work for a cause about which you feel passionate, or for your church? These are great opportunities for meeting new people—many of whom could be future clients! Your services will always be needed for organizing committees, recruiting other volunteers (on the phone or in person), or soliciting donations for your group’s worthy cause.

3. Other people have become great networkers by joining a parent-teacher association—where there are certainly many opportunities to speak on behalf of the children—or perhaps coaching in a children’s sports league, working on a fundraiser, or even coordinating or speaking at a political event for a local or national aspiring candidate. (Once you have presented the platform of a political candidate to a group of voters that you have the power to sway to your guy or gal with your words, you can certainly present yourself in an equally engaging style!)

Networking is a skill set that can be learned—no matter your level of gregariousness. If you remain ill-at-ease in environments where you have to mix and mingle or meet new people, we recommend that you take advantage of some of the many training seminars and workshops that teach you how to network effectively. You’ll find that when you learn ways to handle these situations, you’ll become more relaxed and confident in a networking setting.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Senior Partner of the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.

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2 Responses to “You Have to Be An Extrovert to Succeed at Networking…Or Do You?”

  1. Cinde Johnson October 3, 2011 at 3:23 am #

    As usual, Ivan makes excellent points here!  I had not thought about how it can actually be easier for introverts to network.  I can no longer use that as why I am not all I could be at networking.  🙂

  2. Enin Serdna October 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    All the while that I was hosting, doing volunteer work and attending PTA meetings that there’s this nagging feeling that I’ve overlooked something valuable. I certainly don’t have an excuse not to network now that Ivan pointed this out. 

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