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.