How managers can help their introverts network

Many introverts love to connect deeply. They may not meet as many people at an event, but they often come away with a smaller number of authentic, valuable connections


For introverts, it’s not so much the size of the event as the topic. They tend to like connecting with like-minded people on subjects of great interest. Photo: iStock
For introverts, it’s not so much the size of the event as the topic. They tend to like connecting with like-minded people on subjects of great interest. Photo: iStock

Introverts often dread large conferences or impersonal networking events but having a vast and varied network is essential to business and career success. If you’re a manager, it’s likely that introverts make up one-third to one-half of your team. So, how do you encourage them to make new business connections? For some practical tips, we turned to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and co-founder of Quiet Revolution. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Should you push an employee who’s reticent about attending a conference or networking event to “get out of their comfort zone” and just go?

Yes, you should encourage them, but it’s got to be with the explicit understanding that their preference to stay home is normal and legitimate and that most people (many extroverts included) feel the same way about networking events. They should attend, but they should also feel entitled to pace themselves by taking breaks and by building in “recharge time,” which they might choose to spend alone. Approaching the event in this spirit makes it much easier for the introvert to be fully present and to take risks.

As a manager, if you’re paying to send an introverted employee to a conference or event, how can you make sure they’re actually going to engage with people and not just hide out in their hotel room?

Any time you or an employee is attending a conference, you’ll want to think in advance about what you hope to gain from it. Are you looking for new knowledge? In that case, you might want to task the people attending with taking notes on a particular subject and sharing them with the team when they return. Are you looking for expanded networks? It can help to think in advance about who you (or your employees) would like to meet and to prepare strategically for those meetings—for example, by sending notes to certain people in advance, if appropriate, and asking to schedule a brief meet-up. This is much easier than approaching someone in person cold.

What can introverts bring to, or get out of, networking events that extroverts may not?

Many introverts love to connect deeply. They may not meet as many people at a given event, but they’ll often come away with a smaller number of authentic and valuable connections.

When we think of networking, we think of conferences and other large events. Are there better venues or formats, either online or offline, for introverts to make new connections in their fields?

For introverts, it’s not so much the size of the event as the topic. They tend to like connecting with like-minded people on subjects of great interest. Encourage your employees to choose their venues with this in mind.

Are there good ways for introverted employees to make new connections at the office?

Introverts tend to build alliances one-on-one, behind the scenes. They seek out people with whom they have authentic chemistry or shared interests. If they’re in the right company, there are lots of people like this all around. The key is to connect with them—one by one by one.

How do managers need to change their own thinking about how the introverts on their team connect and build relationships?

We need to understand that some people like to connect through the proverbial happy hour, and others like to do it more quietly. No big deal. I believe we need to move this conversation away from trying to “help” introverts with their supposed liability and instead understand that we all have different ways of achieving the same goal.

Do you have any other tips on effective networking?

I recently came across some of the best networking advice I’ve ever heard: to imagine yourself in the role of the host, rather than the nervous party guest. It’s the host’s job to make everyone feel comfortable. When you’re focused on another person’s comfort, you tend to forget about your own lack of comfort. You become more present.

Dana Rousmaniere is managing editor of HBR’s Insight Centers. Follow her on Twitter @danarousmaniere.

©2016 Harvard Business Review. All rights reserved.

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