The introvert’s guide to networking

People laugh at me when I tell them I’m an introvert. They say I’m either lying or the world’s greatest faker. I joke that I am somewhere in between. But it’s true. I break out of my comfort zone once I know people and have things to chat about. Once I’ve established relationships with people I can be the life of the party. But even after friendships are formed, social events can still be emotionally draining, and produce a lot of social anxiety for me.

When starting a new job, phrases like “happy hour” or “pot-luck” strike terror into my soul. I start to panic. What I’m going to talk about? What if I don’t know anybody? How long do I technically need to stay for it to be considered socially acceptable?

I recently started a new job where networking is key. Forming connections will make or break you, and it seems that your successes and failures are heavily weighed by your social skills. Yikes. To an introvert, “networking” is a terrifying word. It means having to participate in small talk and chit-chat, which many of us are terrible at. It also means being surrounded by a lot of people, usually in a noisy place and having to answer a series of complex questions about your background… and stimulation overload never makes it easier for me to be eloquent and inviting.

Although I am still learning the art of networking (and I have a long way to go,) I’ve picked up a few tricks that help ease the initial pain.

Bring a wing-person

Safety in numbers right? Whether it’s a zombie apocalypse or an after work happy hour, bringing a spouse, or a friend  can break the ice and ease the tension for you. The one caveat is you may stick to your comfort zone and only talk to your friend or spouse, and don’t actually end up socializing with anyone else. Be conscious of that, and talk to your friend beforehands. They’ll be able to help.

Plan ahead

If you’ve been at a new job for a while (I’m at two months now,) you’ve made a few connections or at least will recognize folks at the upcoming company shindig. Chat with people in your group to find out if they are attending the event.  It’ll calm the nerves a bit when you’ve confirmed that you will know a few people.

Go in with a couple talking points. 

Is that guy wearing a Charger hat? Does she have on the same Pumas as you? Small similarities can make striking up a conversation easier. Scan the crowd for people you may recognize, and then hone in on anything you can start chatting about. It can be as small as the weather.

Follow up with those connections

Be sure to follow up with the connections you’ve made at past social events. Like any relationship you should maintain it. Go out for coffee or chat about the next upcoming social event on your lunch break or around the water cooler.  Most co-workers have been with the company longer than you and are useful mentors while you learn the ropes.

Keep it profesh

I’m always more confidant and talkative after a few beers, but be sure to keep it professional. Remember that you are at a business event, and not a college kegger. One or two glasses of wine over a few hours is alright, but make sure you are portraying yourself in the same manner you would in the workplace.

Don’t worry if it takes a while

Don’t get too down if the first couple of events are more awkward than fun. Most folks are familiar with each other and have “war stories” to share over drinks. Listen and chime in when you are able, but don’t be discouraged by taking the listening role for a while.

Offer to help organize something

Sometimes jumping in and helping to organize an event can be easier than attending. I am always less awkward when I’m put to work refilling drinks or the chip bowl.

This gives you the opportunity to work together with the other team members, show your willingness to engage outside of work and to potentially make connections.  Just be sure to put down the guacamole bowl now and then to mingle with the other attendees.

And the most important part—actually go to the events

I’m guilty of talking myself out of social events every now and then… As in, often. Make a point to RSVP early to networking events, and plan ahead to actually go. Making new connections and friends makes work more inviting and enjoyable, as well as helpful if you get into a bind and need help from a peer.

Once you’ve done your part, give yourself sometime to unwind at home. Do whatever makes you feel happy, whether it’s going for a run or watching four episodes of your favorite show on Netflix. You did it! You can do it. You’ve got this.

[Image via AMC]