Q. I am an introvert, but I know that to move a step ahead at work, I need to network. Is there a shy person’s guide to networking?
One of my favourite quotes on introverts is by Eric Timm, an author. It says “An extrovert sees a stack of books and sees a stack of papers while an introvert looks at the same stack and see a soothing source of escape”.
The first step is to step out of your comfort zone and venture out to where your colleagues at work hangout, most probably the place you have been avoiding. You cannot network in solitude. You also need to learn how to start conversations. Start with the basics, such as introducing yourself, saying what you do and what your interests are. Usually, in the process of getting to know the other person, you will find an area of interest that takes the conversation to another level.
It is useful when networking with senior colleagues to know their names and departments they work in, which makes it easier to strike a work-focused conversation.
Remember that talking too much does not mean one has the best ideas, so pace yourself and share at your comfort.
As an introvert you have qualities that are admirable. You have a high sense of self-awareness for instance, which is useful in reading your own mood and recognising its effect on others. You can use this strength to know how engaging you are in a conversation and know when you need to change the topic or just conclude and move on. Asking questions is also easier than doing all the talking. You are also a keen listener, which is a great strength.
Most people desire to be heard, but not many people are good listeners. Introverts are good listeners, use that to your advantage.
Good listeners in team setups usually provide quite useful reflections and insights. Use such opportunities to stand out and get your manager and others to see more potential in you despite your quiet personality.
You are also likely to excel in one-to-one or smaller gatherings. Start your networking at this level to build your confidence before you venture into bigger groups.
There will be situations when you may feel less confident - this happens to all of us, even the extroverts, though they tend to struggle with over-confidence. Tap back into your expert knowledge into a certain aspect of your work or area of interest, keep your head straight and get back to the conversation.