New year, new books. Here’s how introverts can get an edge on networking
Networking lives on in the virtual world. More than a handbook for making any kind of connections, The Introvert’s Edge to Networking attempts to help introverts attract more of the work they’re most passionate about.
Published January 20, 2021
Last updated September 21, 2021
The Introvert’s Edge to Networking, published January 2021, is not—as some of us might wish—a book about how to network effectively without talking to strangers. Talking to strangers is still involved. But as author Matthew Pollard explains, introverts often don’t mind talking to people when conversations run deep and are authentic. Introverts just hate the typical networking dance in which you try to suss out whether the other person is “useful” to you, and then the awkward aftermath when you realize the answer is “no.” For extroverts, the whole chatting process itself is fun and worth the time. For introverts, not so much.
Pollard’s book teaches how to transform networking conversations into real conversations about topics you’re passionate about, by helping you identify and articulate the deep personal reasons you got into your career in the first place, and what about it gets you up in the morning.
Many of us tend to quantify our work lives: we calculate how many clients, or job interviews, or dollars we can amass, and how many of those we might lose if our true quirky selves are known. But as long as we’re only showing what everyone expects, we operate as a commodity—as someone who is pretty much interchangeable with anyone else in our career bracket. You are not “just” a customer service agent, real estate agent, insurance broker...etc. looking for work, or clients. There’s a reason that you, specifically, got into your field, and a set of experiences and skills that you can uniquely bring to it. Rather than seeing that as a liability, Pollard shows how that’s your greatest strength.
There’s a reason that you, specifically, got into your field, and a set of experiences and skills that you can uniquely bring to it. Rather than seeing that as a liability, Pollard shows how that’s your greatest strength.
If you are fully yourself and doing something that really inspires you, you’re going to send out a signal that will doubtless alert some that you’re not their cup of tea. But that signal will notify others that the one they’ve been looking for has at last arrived. This only happens when you’re lit by a fire within about what you’re doing.
“When you speak about something you really care about,” Pollard writes, “you can’t help speaking with passion and excitement.”
Identifying what you’re passionate about
Unfortunately, says Pollard, a lot of people don’t know how to find the passion in what they do. It can be easy to lose sight, over time, of what person or impetus drew us to the career road we now find ourselves traveling. Uncovering, or recovering, that inspiration is the key to transforming work from a grind to a joy.
Pollard suggests readers ask themselves questions like these:
- What do I want to see happen, change in the world, the workplace, etc.?
- Why do I care?
- What’s the driving passion behind it?
- What are my favorite types of problems to solve at work?
- Where do I get the greatest joy from in my personal life?
Many people have a tendency to give rote answers about why they got into their job; even they don’t realize what that initial spark was. Asking these questions can help find it.
Pollard also recommends that his clients work to understand who they want to help. Some employers, or customers, can make it more (or less) fun to get up each morning and face the day. He recommends that you write down the customers, clients, or employers who are your evangelists, the ones who love you and sing your praises. He also recommends listing your highest-paying customers. The ones who tick both boxes are the dream customers.
Some employers, or customers, can make it more (or less) fun to get up each morning and face the day.
One of Pollard’s clients, for example, struggled to compete as a content writer when content writers around the world will often work for pennies. How could she compete and make a decent living? As it turns out, some of her favorite work was for health tech companies, and she had the knowledge to focus on that audience and it became her very successful niche. Another was a realtor who loved helping successful entrepreneurs figure out the best home for them in terms of finding a good place for their kids, having somewhere to work from home, proximity to a network to build their business, etc. That became his niche, rather than trying to sell homes to everyone.
Picking a niche doesn’t lock you in forever.
“Just because you pick a niche doesn’t mean you can’t do anything else,” Pollard writes. “It especially doesn’t mean you can’t work with the people that already know, like, and trust you, or are referred to you by those that do.” In other words, your niche can evolve, grow, and shift, just like the path of a river.
Once someone knows what they're passionate about, and who they want to work for and help, it’s time to find the way to tell that story.
[Related read: Glennon Doyle on why the work of transformation is never done]
Telling your story
If you give a lecture, no one in the audience may remember anything about it a week, month, or year later. But if you tell a story, they may not only remember some details but it may become part of the way they think. As Pollard notes, “You might not remember what you had for dinner last Wednesday night, but you know exactly what time Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin.” Stories engage people’s emotions and sail past their objections and resistance to sales. Pollard recommends everyone find three true stories from your experience about how you helped a client, a customer, or an employer deal with a problem. The stories need to illustrate your own unique way of helping.
Try answering these questions to help:
- What are three major issues, problems or desired outcomes my niche has?
- What is the solution I recommend?
- What is one story I have that describes someone who has had one of these problems or desired outcomes?
Pollard recommends sticking with only three anecdotes and learning how to tell those stories really well. Pay attention to where people’s interest flags or picks up, and hone the story a little better next time.
In the networking moment
Having a story is great, but how do you put yourself in a position to tell it? Pollard’s suggestion here is unconventional—he calls it “a unified message.” This is an avatar or identity you give yourself to set yourself apart from the crowd.
If you are fully yourself and doing something that really inspires you, you’re going to send out a signal that will doubtless alert some that you’re not their cup of tea. But that signal will notify others that the one they’ve been looking for has at last arrived.
For example, if you tell someone you’re a real estate agent or customer care rep, the other person assumes they already know what you’re about. That doesn’t leave much room for conversation. But if you tell people you’re a ‘Mission Maven’ or the ‘Service Interventionist,’ people are bound to ask, “What’s that?” and you’re off...telling your stories.
With Pollard’s advice, many of the awkward, meaningless parts of conversing with a room full of strangers is eradicated. Instead, you can do what introverts do best—be a quirky individual driven by deep passion, which is something much of the world hungers for, even though they may not realize it. People want passion in their lives and in those they do business with. In a world of robots that can handle consistency and predictability with perfection, what we need is more humans who aren’t afraid to embrace their unique, creative, quirky self—and let everybody know it.
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