It's that networking time of the year
We are now entering the time of the year for holiday parties and business networking events. I have been attending these events for many years and have learned to enjoy them; however, it wasn't always that way.
Over twenty years ago I met my friend Susan RoAne who introduced me to her signature book on networking, "How to Work a Room." The tips and techniques contained in it have made a world of difference in how I approach these events.
Is there such a thing as a 'shy' extrovert?
One of my favorites from Susan's book is "Act like a host (and gracious guest)." One networking myth I hear often and would like to dispel is that "introverts are 'shy' and 'extroverts' are not; "therefore, extroverts are more comfortable at networking events than introverts.
This is a myth, however, because shyness has nothing to do with being introverted or extroverted; anyone can be shy. Most people who know me will agree that I am a very strong extrovert and these same people often find it hard to believe that I am also shy.
According to Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen in the book on the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, 'Type Talk,' introversion and extroversion is about behavioral preferences based on energy flow, or what 'energizes' us. Extroverts are energized by people and action; they 'speak' to 'think.' Introverts, on the other hand, are energized by thought ideas and would rather 'listen' than 'talk.' They 'think' to 'speak.' The American Psychological Association's site states: "Shyness is the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people." Like many people I also have a tendency to feel shy around unfamiliar people. The key here is 'unfamiliar people.' Like many people, I'm most comfortable around people that I know.
Stepping out of the comfort zone
With this in mind, however, I can't let my shyness and uncomfortability around unfamiliar people be an excuse for remaining in my comfort zone. That's what it's really about for me; I want to be comfortable. Once I get to know people, however, they're no longer 'unfamiliar,' but are 'familiar,' and I have to get outside of my comfort zone to make that happen. But how can I do that?
A typical experience of attending a networking event is that upon arriving we look for someone we already know and join them. We may have even made arrangements in advance to meet. That way we stay 'safe' in our comfort zone.
Acting like a host
In Susan's book it states: "The 'hosts' exhibit gracious manners -- meeting people, starting conversations, introducing others and making sure that their needs are met. Hosts are concerned with the comfort of others and actively contribute to that comfort."
Over the years of attending networking events, I have found that by employing these simple techniques I have been able to step out of my comfort zone. Some things I do are:
- Arrive early
- Engage in conversation with the people at the registration table
- When people arrive, provide information; direct them where to hang their coats, where the rest rooms are, where the food is, etc.
- Look for people standing alone, approach them and introduce myself
- Sit at a table with people I do not know
Talk to 'strangers'
As an extrovert, I confess, it might be a little bit easier for me to step out of my comfort zone and do this; but the reality is I still have to fight the urge to stay in my comfort zone 'hang out' with my friends. I have many good friends today who I did not know the first time I observed them standing alone at a networking event. All I did was walk up to them with outreached hand and said, "Hi, I'm Mary Anne," and the rest is history.
There's an old saying that bears mentioning here: "Strangers are friends we have not met yet." Had I stayed in my comfort zone I would not have the wonderful people mentioned above in my life today.
My holiday challenge for you is to check out Susan's article Holiday Party Do's and Don'ts. Practice your introduction, have some small talk prepared and remember to 'Act like a host.'
Whether your preference is for extroversion or introversion, if you step out of your comfort zone you can enjoy the holiday networking experiences and make some really great friends in the process. Make it a special gift to yourself!
Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful holiday season!