Growing your network as an introvert

So we’ve established the necessity and value of multiple connections in your professional life (https://owntrepreneurship.com/2015/07/17/you-are-the-sum-of-your-connections/).

Connect- it doesn't hurt
Connect- it doesn’t hurt

But do you go about obtaining and maintaining these connections? Well, if you are an outgoing type, than making connections should be a breeze- you simply talk to people, call then, chat them up and connect with them on social media (and keep their cards in the rolodex).

But what if you’re an Introvert?

What if mingling or “networking” isn’t really your thing? What if you shy from social interactions with people you don’t know, and think that calling people you don’t know is simply too embarrassing? Well, since we are in 2015, there’s an easy solution. It’s called the INTERNET. And using internet tools such as email, social media and CRM you can easily avoid most of the awkwardness associated with making new connections.

But let’s start with the easy part- regardless of what you like or not, you are bound to meet and talk to new people- be it when meeting customers, attending professional seminar or even on your leisure time. And since you’ve already talked to them (delivered a presentation, participated in a sales call, whatever) you can easily reach out to them later and “claim” the connection. Simply look them up in the appropriate social network (in 99% of cases it would have something to do with your profession, so LinkedIn would be it) and send a connection request. That’s it.

No words spoken.

No awkward email introduction needed.

No awkwardness on the receiving end.

And if you want to connect to someone you haven’t actually met? No need for “extra smoothness” (as you recall we’ve met at …) – all you need to do is to write how you’ve met (or came to know), what is it that you want and why. Something like- I’ve attended a presentation you deliver last week at the conference and would like to add you to my professional network.

With time this will become easier and more natural, and as your network grows your visibility will grow and voila- people will start contacting you, asking to connect with you. Be kind and reciprocate. It costs nothing an has enormous value to your career, even if it is not obvious right now.

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You are the sum of your connections

The power of connections
The power of connections

We tend to measure the progress in our careers by looking at tangible things- how much we earn, how many people we manage, how important is our title. These are all metrics that measures ourselves. But few of us ever consider that we might not be the most important elements in our own success, but others that we are connected to. I would even dare say that who you know is sometimes more important than how you are. The concept of “connectors” was illustrated to great effect in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The tipping point”.  Gladwell claims that social epidemics (that was back in 2006. Today he would have used the phrase “viral”) are dependent on the involvement of three types of social agents: Maven, Connector, or Salesperson. Mavens and salesperson are easily identified and defined- just think about that guy who knows everything about gadgets and the guy always trying to persuade you to dine at this new restaurant. But Connectors are more difficult to fathom. Gladwell defines them as:” the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who “link us up with the world…people with a special gift for bringing the world together” (if you haven’t already read it, I recommend you do so now: http://gladwell.com/the-tipping-point/).

And since we all have about the same capacity for close connections (we can maintain close-ish relations with about 150 people at a time, according to Dunbar’s law), what sets true connectors apart is their ability to establish and maintain a much wider network of secondary (or “weak”) connections. The importance of these weaker connections was first identified in the 1960s, a Doctor Mark Granovetter who conducted a study to determine the role that friendships play in helping individuals find employment. Granovetter discovered that in the process of landing a job, weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friendships because weak ties give us access to social networks where we otherwise don’t belong. And while we expect sales-oriented people to be good at this, and them alone, the truth is that having access to multiple social circles is crucial for anyone who’s ever going to migrate between geographies, change her line of work or care about a non-work related cause. And since this maybe true for only a fraction of the population now, it will surely be a decisive edge in the future, where expert foresee no job stability and diverse employment models being the norm.

So the next time you submit a job application, remember that in addition to your resume, the people reading your CV also look at who you know and how many you know. This network of connection could be your decisive edge (in future posts I will explore further how to establish and maintain such large networks of connections).