Mohandas Gandhi was a shy man and he said this about what we term "networking." "We find so many people impatient to talk....My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth."
I am mostly an introvert. Yup. I like to write. I like to read. I like to think. I like to listen to music alone. While I can network well socially, it bloody well wears me out. I need down time afterwards.
We live in a nation that rewards the outgoing. From the testosterone-fueled culture of the Harvard Business School case study process to the bigger than life personalities of Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, et. al., extroverts are accepted as the ideal of business leadership. We are a country that increasingly idealizes and rewards a type-A personality leadership of overbearing public positivity, dominance, and back-slapping ebullience. On the other hand, Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, describes the predominant view of introversion as "a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Society values an "extrovert ideal--the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight."
One of my unsolved conundrums as an introvert entrepreneur is how to network while I honor my own authenticity and originality without being comfortable with the expressive norms of an extroverted society.
Over the years my personal solution to this is simply not to network at all--not to worry about quantity of new contacts, but to go deeper with just a few folks.
Now comes support for my intuition about business networking from David Burkus in an article in the Harvard Business Review. Says Barkus,
"I reviewed dozens of studies on networking for my latest book, and the overall implications are that these events don't live up to their billing. Most of us, when put into a situation where the only goal is to meet new people, default to staying inside of our comfort zones. That means talking to people we know...or at the very least people who are similar to us. That means most networking event are doomed from the start, by their very design."
For example, Burkus points to a study of networking events by Columbia Business School professors Paul Ingram and Michael Morris who organized a networking mixer for 100 executives at Columbia. Burkus reports that despite 95% of executives saying they wanted to meet new people, the average participant spent half of their time with the 1/3 of people they knew already. The minimal new meetings that did happen were mostly with people like themselves: Consultants spoke with consultants and bankers talked to bankers. Burkus reports "the most successful networker at the event turned out to be the bartender."
Introverts tend to want deeper, more varied and more meaningful conversations. We enjoy more personal communication and, therefore, frequently seek these deeper connections.
Burkus finds the best sort of networking occurs from things like serving on non-profit boards, volunteering, organizing a charity drive, playing in an amateur sports league, taking up a new hobby or anything that draws more diverse and differentiated colleagues.
(Many entrepreneurs will be attending Inc.'s GrowCo conference in New Orleans next week. I have always found this to be a good quality networking event simply because it is smaller, creating better opportunities to go deeper with a more manageable group of people.)
Historian Richard Hofstadter, in his book Anti-Intellectualism in America, shares the thoughts of the miraculously prescient Alexis de Tocqueville on the culture of extroversion in the U.S. He says, "Toqueville saw that the life of constant action and decision which was entailed by the democratic and businesslike character of American life put a premium upon rough and ready habits of mind, quick decision, and the prompt seizure of opportunities--and that all this activity was not propitious for deliberation, elaboration, or precision in thought."