I attended a conference for work this past week. I was looking forward to the speakers and presentations and perhaps seeing some old friends. I hung out a little with an extroverted friend of mine and realized some important differences. She was there to connect with many people, both old friends and new. I had no desire to meet everyone, but rather wanted to have a few quality conversations instead of a lot of small talk. Which is right? Neither is right or wrong, but rather we each have different goals and desires. As an introvert, I am not going to bounce from person to person and should not feel any guilt about this. She is going to want to talk to as many people as she can, and that is great for her.
Extroverts get energized by interacting with people. As an introvert, I get charged by ideas and concepts that are interesting and exciting to me. I like talking to people and I am not necessarily drained by people. What drains me is too much small talk. I get drained when the subjects are not that interesting to me and I have to strain to come to up with something to say. I also get drained when the environment is too noisy and it is hard to hear the other person. I don’t mind noisy environments and loud music, just as long as I am not trying to talk or have a conversation. The old saying, “I can’t hear myself think” applies especially to introverts in this situation.
I have spent a lot of my life comparing myself to extroverts and feeling like I didn’t measure up. Comparing myself to my extroverted friend, I finally realized, “Why would I want to act like her, or in this case network like her, when I don’t have the same needs or desires for social interaction?”
In “Networking for People Who Hate Networking” Devora Zack says in regards to introverts and extroverts:
“Unbeknownst to the general public, two divergent cultures live among us. Although not distinguishable by gender, age, race, ethnicity, physical abilities, or height, they are entirely different species. These two civilizations have some variations with their societies, yet retain distinct customs and rituals.”
What are your goals for a particular networking event? If you are an introvert, your networking goals will likely be different than your extroverted colleague. And that is OK. I do want to say that, although you may go about things in a different way, you may still need to make improvements in yourself in order to reach your goals. You can’t change your introversion, but you can change learned habits, thoughts and fears that are holding you back in these types of social situations.
I was thinking about this as I attended the conference. I had a great time, heard some interesting presentations, and enjoyed some good conversations. I thought about how interacting with people in this type of setting used to be more difficult for me, and how I am so much better now at navigating the social aspects of a conference and so much more at ease. Part of this change was really getting to know myself and what my goals were. I also don’t pressure myself to interact every minute, but let myself relax and also give myself a little room to breathe and recharge alone as needed.
What are you goals for your next conference or networking event? How will you achieve them? Just be sure they are your goals and you achieve them using your unique gifts and strengths.