Help For The Shy Networker

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Photo by Andy Hay

When I was a kid, I was so shy around strangers that my mom would give me “anti-shyness” exercises.  She would make me go up to the check-out register and pay for things myself. Then I had to make telephone calls to businesses, asking for information. I thought it was child abuse, but it must have been just what I needed, as the shyness ultimately evaporated.

Even if you’re not shy, it is common to have some resistance to networking.

A lot of highly intelligent, capable people freeze up with the thought of asking others for assistance.  The voice of resistance speaks:

“I don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time.”

“What if they don’t want to talk to me?”

“What am I going to say?”

“People ignore my attempts at networking!”

Networking guru Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, has specific advice for the shy networker:

“You don’t have to be the schmoozer”, says Ferrazzi. “The problem with the schmoozer’s approach to networking is that he doesn’t have the right intent:  He’s not interested in helping other people-only himself.  Be the authentic, aw-shucks, humble shy person you are. It can be endearing. Don’t try to be something you’re not,” advises Ferrazzi.

While you may need to encourage yourself to be a little more out-going, you don’t have to be artificial.

Here are 6 more tips to get you motivated:

1. Realize That You DO Have Something to Offer Others
All of these actions benefit the other person:

  • Listening well and showing interest
  • Asking thoughtful questions
  • Making a sincere compliment
  • Recommending a pertinent article, book, website or contact
  • Letting the person know how they inspire you
  • Asking how you can be of help to them

2. Don’t Apologize
There is no need to apologize to others for wanting to build a relationship with them. If you are polite and respectful of their time, it’s not an imposition. Apologizing can make you appear timid and lacking in confidence.

3. Try Role Playing to Gain Confidence
This is something I do with my clients to break through the fear of rejection. I pretend I am the person they want to contact, and I role-play various responses they may receive, from disinterested to welcoming.  When they get my aloof response, they know it’s not personal, and their confidence increases.  It sounds silly, but it really works and is fun to do with a spouse or friend.  No one around? Grab a mirror and practice!

4. Be Prepared
Know ahead of time what you want to say about yourself. How could you describe yourself in a compelling way? Use words that paint a memorable image in the other person’s mind. Have a list of questions, both general and specific to draw upon in conversation. Being up on current events and having some personal interests to talk about can be helpful during more casual conversations, such as mealtime during a conference.

5. Show Appreciation and Follow-up
Keith Ferrazzi says the majority of people fall down in networking by failing to follow-up. Don’t waste all of your efforts by neglecting this most important piece! Make it a rule that you follow-up via email, or a thank-you note, within 24-48 hours. When you return from a networking event, follow through with any promises to send resources, such as an article.

6. Create a “Networking Spreadsheet”
An Excel spreadsheet will come in handy to keep track of your contacts. When you want to contact someone 6-12 months later, you can remind yourself where you met, and a few specific things about your acquaintance. This will help you to feel even more comfortable in your next interaction.

But most of all have fun. If you read Keith Ferrazzi’s book, you will see how enriched his life is by all the connections he makes through networking. By his own admission, he goes WAY OVERBOARD, but he loves it.  And if you don’t already, I think with the right approach, you could feel some of that love too!

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  1. Elaine on January 21, 2011 at 10:38 am

    When you described your mom making you interact with strangers I had a flashback to my childhood! I felt tortured as well when my mom tried to make me interact with a cashier to buy something I really wanted!
    I also loved the rest of your blog and ended up at Amazon purchasing two books for my Kindle about networking and improving conversations. Thank you for this very timely information in my life-

  2. Heather Fork on January 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you Elaine. It’s nice to know someone else had a similar experience, though I am sorry for the childhood stress! I imagine there are many doctors out there who started out shy, but did not let this trait limit their career options! Enjoy the books and best wishes to you for fun and successful connections.

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