Devora Zack is president of Only Connect Consulting, which consults organizations in private industry, federal agencies and the public sector. She is also a self-described introvert and author of “Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected.” I interviewed Zack on how introverts can develop a networking strategy tailored to their personality. An edited version of her answers follows.

In your book, you say that you are an introvert. What was your first step to teaching yourself to network?

The first step is understanding and accepting your basic personality style. The second is discovering how to work with — rather than fight against — your natural temperament. This is a radical departure from all other networking advice out there and a huge relief to my readers!

What do you think is the biggest factor that can make people hesitant about networking?

There are two primary reasons people dislike networking. The first is a widely held misunderstanding of the term. Networking has a bad rap. It is not a four-letter word! When faced with the concept of “networking,” most people envision small talk, being phony, superficial banter and coercion. In fact, none of these is a component of true networking, and all are counter to outcome-based networking. Real networking, as explained in my book, is about forming meaningful, lasting, mutually beneficial connections, one person at a time.

The second reason people are averse to the idea of networking is that most of us are following the wrong rules. Typical networking advice is along the lines of “Get out there as much as possible, attend every event that crosses your path and never eat alone.” This is terrible advice for about 70% of the population. My book offers a whole new approach to networking — with the foundation that less is more — that actually works far better with less effort.

Why is networking so important, and why do you emphasize the importance of learning to network on one’s own terms?

Networking is directly linked to whatever your big goal might be. Think about anything you want to accomplish or achieve. Networking will help you reach the finish line faster and happier.

What are the benefits to being an introverted networker? Are there networking pitfalls to being an extrovert?

Introverts are usually excellent listeners. This is probably the most important skill for quality networking. Another is that introverts tend to pick up on subtle nonverbals that extroverts may miss. These are important clues to what matters to others and how to build rapport.

A common pitfall for extroverts is that because they are naturally verbal, they can chat on and on, missing the opportunity to ask questions and make real connections. Another is that they are so gifted at working the room, they can end up with a briefcase full of business cards and have no idea whom they came from the next day. Finally, because extroverts are drawn to external stimuli, it can be challenging for them to focus on the person in front of them at an event.

What is the biggest mistake a person can make when it comes to networking?

Not following up. If you’re not following up, you’re not networking! Extroverts think they are great networkers because they are at ease in a crowd and enjoy meeting people. However, having a good time isn’t the same thing as being a good networker. The real question is, “What happens the next day?” Do you make personalized follow-ups with people you met? Do you offer something helpful to them immediately? Do you remember specifics of the conversations? This is the beginning foundation of real networking.

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9 Responses to “Q&A with Devora Zack: The networking perks of being an introvert”

  1. bodyharmonychiro says:

    Thank you for this post! As an introvert and small business owner I dread the energy drain after intense networking. This article encourages me to just be authentic and listen to the other person. I don't have to schmooze the entire room if I make a few quality connections.

  2. ade says:

    This is a great post and falls right in line with a discussion I had with a colleague just yesterday. Both of us dread having to "work a room", but have just recently taken opportunities to reach out to a select few (versus "the room") resulting in exactly what Devora eludes to above, a quality network relationship that benefits both parties. Interestingly enough, the person I reached out to was also a quiet participant.

  3. Sirpa Aggarwal says:

    Thanks for this article! It's a comforting reminder that it's OK (and even good!) to be an introverted networker.

  4. [...] Q&A With Devora Zack: The networking perks of being an introvert on SmartBlog on Leadership. [...]

  5. This is a great piece. Regardless if you're an introvert or not, you hit on two great points: the need to listen and to follow up. A good practice is after you get a potential client's card and have some time. Jot down some notes on the back of it before moving on. This way you will remember crucial details on your follow up.

  6. marykateleahy says:

    I think people definitely think of networking as sliding around the room, handing out business cards, pretending to remember people's names and offering false favors. But the reality of it is very different, which you demonstrate well here. I wouldn't classify myself as an introvert, more like a 50/50 split, but the advice is helpful to everyone. Thanks for the great post.

  7. mima tipper says:

    Thank you so much for this truly thoughtful and informative post. I recently attended a writers' weekend that included visiting editors and literary agents, and know that the pressure to network and take advantage of the short time/availability of these professionals frightened many of my writing colleagues (including myself!) My gut feeling told me that having tangible conversations without really thinking about "selling" myself or my work was what would make me comfortable even approaching/talking to any of these folks. I was lucky enough to have a couple of such conversations, and am happy that my instinct made me do what was comfortable. How happy and encouraged I am to hear that that may be what will ultimately be best for my hoping-to-publish career. I look forward to checking out your book. Best to you!

  8. ibrowej says:

    Great guidelines and encouraging words for the introvert. Being an introvert myself, I can see where different methods need to be employed in order to achieve the same results as the extrovert. But, it is possible to succeed, in spite of the common stereotype given to the introvert. We definitely have our strong points. We just need to know how to recognize them and learn how to use them. Social skills will become more natural if you are persistent at practicing them. Social media could be used as a great outlet to build confidence. I also found some other helpful tips at: http://relationshipcapital.co/op/?utm_src=bl

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