Sweaty palms, a racing heart, and butterflies soaring usually occur when I enter a room with complete strangers and try to strike a conversation. Many of introverts may also experience this when attending a networking event or meeting with a new planner or designer. This may result in avoiding future networking events or conversations. So how do introverts get past this and engage in fruitful conversations with others?
Know Your Resistance
We may think: I’m not an extrovert and I don’t need to network to experience success and pursue my passion. I can be a lone wolf because I’m smart and determined. Or, relationships should happen organically and not be designed to gain or benefit from (it’s unethical to get a job from a friend!).
However, this is flawed thinking and, at least for me, I realized my resistance of networking and engaging with strangers stemmed from the fear of being rejected by others. I felt I wasn’t enough or worthy to go up and talk to the person because I’d waste their time. This insight about myself helped me pinpoint why I was so bad at introducing myself and begin a conversation.
Why do you resist networking? It’s important to be honest with yourself and explore how your personal experiences may have shaped your attitude of networking.
Build Relationships, Not Contacts
I also had the following mindshift about networking:
Networking is not about the number of friends and/or business cards you have, it’s about the meaningful relationships you build from it.
Relationships are one of the most important things in human lives to experience joy and happiness. Brene Brown says that humans are “hardwired” for human connection. William Whyte discovered that people attract other people by observing public places in New York City.
In this context, networking is not about meeting people to gain from their knowledge, prestige, or popularity. But to learn from them, share ideas, and hold a dialogue about eachothers passions and beliefs.
If more planners and designers do this with eachother, our profession will grow to be develop better outcomes for cities.
If planners and designers do this with others outside of the city planning profession such as sociologists, biologists, lawyers, engineers, politicians, public health officials, teachers, and citizens, we gain more knowledge, more perspectives, and more ideas to improve our cities.
What really helped me networking for large conferences and events was to set goals for myself to work on achieving. I am an achiever and when I have a goal to fulfill, I tend to move past my fears and focus my efforts. If you’re the same, this strategy is for you.
Example goals I have used is meet one person I don’t know. Networking can be overwhelming at times and it helps to just focus on connecting with one person. That’s all!
Focus on Listening
As introverts, we can be better listeners than extroverts. Use this strength and let the other person talk. The easiest way to do this is to ask questions about who the person is and what they are passionate about. Many people love to talk about themselves and listening to their stories is.
It’s key to remain present during the conversation. When I say present, I mean focusing on the conversation and what the other person to understand them. You may find your mind wandering, thinking about “what should I say next”, but bring your presence back to the conversation and interrupt when you want clarification with what they are saying.
Check out Strategies to Engage in Tough Conversations for more about listening strategies.
So join me in meeting new people, developing relationships, and creating better cities because of it. For events throughout the United States, see my events page.