Networking for Shy People

What do you think of doing networking? If you’re like me, it was hard. Hard, because even though I can be in “entertainment” mode, I’m actually a pretty shy guy and the thought of just going out and networking just doesn’t appeal to me.

But, some things have helped over time.

First, learning that “networking” isn’t something you do, like going out and painting a picture by number. Instead, networking is simply knowing and helping other people. The more people you help, the more people you know, and the larger your network gets.

Second, learning to stay connected with people. It is incredibly easy to lose touch with people…and their knowledge and support goes right along with them. Whether losing touch is the result of reorganizations, people moving to different companies, changing addresses and schools, or simply being “busy,” losing touch is easy to do. Learning how to stay connected by doing what works for you makes a big difference in your ability to maintain a network.

Third, in today’s world, with global acquaintances and support, many people use some sort of tool to help stay connected. While many will scoff at the idea of using some sort of database or tool, to maintain contacts, the truth of the matter is it takes a lot more than an address book to effectively maintain contact with people. Personally, I use JibberJobber to do it, but many tools will do.

Consequently, you simply build your circle of acquaintances and build up your friendship with them as you go. And help people when they need it. Isn’t that what you do every day?

But, Barbara Stephani over at careersolvers, notes the nine Top Excuses Why People Won’t Network — and she nails them pretty well.

Mine, in spite of being labeled an extrovert, is number four: Not comfortable talking to people you don’t know. This is the stat that counts:

60% of the population considers themselves shy. This perception leads to less networking.

It’s a serious issue, especially talking to people one on one. But Penelope Trunk offered some good advice in how to start a quality conversation with someone you don’t know.

The biggest lesson: practice.

Practice what? This is the conundrum. But, as usual, Penelope found a good source to find out what to practice:

So I found someone who is in this situation a lot, and actually gets paid for it: Moira Gunn, author of the book Welcome to Biotech Nation. Her radio show, Tech Nation, is known for introducing hard-core scientists to people who aren’t especially interested in science. She finds a lot of people to interview by going to the International Biotech Conference, and she does the interviews herself even though she knows very little about biotech.

The way that Gunn gets such fun and interesting interviews out of her subjects is by not having a preconception of what they’ll be talking about. She wants to find that spot where they are engaged and knowledgeable, because anyone on any topic will be interesting if they have that. She says the key is to be open to where the other person wants to go, and to listen.

Find the spot where the other person is engaged and knowledgeable. Practice finding that, and getting to know someone will become easier with time.

Hey, send me an e-mail through the “Contact Scot” page. Ask some engaging questions and let’s see if we can figure out what we’re engaged and knowledgeable in and have a conversation. Consider it practice — and add another acquaintance to your network.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Penelope — yes, I’ve been in companies that have, for example, lots of layoffs. When the people walked out the door, your contact walked out with them.

    What I am doing now is getting the personal e-mail address of each person I want to stay in touch with and then do some follow-up from that connection.

    I find if I don’t do that, the relationship that we had stops; a mere transactional time when we worked together.

    How many people do you know at work are leaving for whatever reason and you never see them again? That’s a picture of your network shrinking.

  • Hi, Scot. Thanks for linking to Brazen Careerist.

    I like what you said about staying connected to people you already know. It’s so much easier to build on something you already have than start something totally new. I find I often take established relationships for granted and focus on seeking new ones. And I have to remind myself that often people who don’t seem as relevant now as they did years ago will be our biggest supporters because they’ve known us for so long.


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