Networking Doesn't Have To Be So Hard

Mackenzie Hanes

Mackenzie Hanes,

December 08, 2023

Hello, my name is Mackenzie and I’m an Introvert. I feel awkward in social situations…but I’m really good at networking. And you can be too!

If you walk into a room of introverts (if you can find a room of introverts) and tell them that their financial and professional future will hinge on them successfully networking to their desired status, they would look crestfallen, and may resign themselves to never reach higher.

But networking does not have to mean going to huge parties with tons of people with loud music and stale food. Networking has gotten pigeonholed into an activity that causes many professionals to miss opportunities to grow. But now, here’s a five-step challenge to help introverts make strategic connections!

First, let’s break down what networking is, and what it is not.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Networking is “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” So, at its core, networking is reacting and communicating. Inside scoop- reacting to others is my favorite way to get a conversation started at an event. Someone may enthusiastically announce something, I will notice, smile, and then ask what has gotten them so excited. It’s a great way to jump into a conversation with a person or group.

Ok, but now you’re thinking- “I thought I was just networking to get a job or get a better job.” And yes, this may be 100% true- you do need a job, you do need a better job, you do need something- but approaching networking with the attitude of need can sabotage the conversation. Because in networking, as in friendship, as in almost any relationship, your focus should be on reacting and giving- not taking.

So, hot take- you should be networking before you need anything. And you should keep networking when you have a great job. Because- it’s easier that way. But, even for those of you who are starting networking now- You can do this! It is not ingenuine to put your needs aside for a few hours to engage with the people around you.

Ready for the easy challenges to help my fellow introverts network well? Here we go with 5 challenges to get you networking successfully.

  1. Enjoy your hobbies, and sometimes with others.

You do not have to limit the idea of networking to big events at conferences, you can network aka meet people everywhere. The easiest way for an introvert to have a conversation with someone else is for it to be meaningful, deep, or interesting. We can talk to people we have common interests with, so do that! If you’re into tabletop games, go to Chaotic Good and join a game. If you’re into local music, go grab a table at The Burl. Go to a place where your hobby is, because it’s filled with other people with a common interest. Cut through the small talk and get deep with a fellow enthusiast!

  1. Be curious.

Wish you didn’t have to hear yourself talk much? Great! Ask questions and let the other person talk! We’re not trying to create an intense interrogation scene with a bright light in someone’s face and rapid fire questions. Genuinely ask questions, listen to the answers, and ask follow up questions. If you’re already somewhere that matches your hobbies and interests, then starting a conversation about a shared interest is a great way to build a relationship.

  1. Sit next to a connector.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a number of great connectors choose to adopt me as their introvert friend and bring me along to introduce me to literally anyone they’ve gotten to talk to them. Interestingly, they usually also grab another introvert or a shy person to bring into a circle who looks about as uncomfortable as me. I like to move to be by those people because they’re going to want to disconnect and have a 1-on-1 convo. So pretty much, I let my connector friend find me a person to talk to, and I just had to stand there and didn’t have to reach out.

  1. Countdown 3-2-1-Go.

Have you ever watched those TikToks of the people who changed their mind about parachuting out of an airplane, but it doesn’t matter because they’re already strapped to an expert who is going to get them out the door on 3-2-1? That is what I have in my head when I set my 3-2-1-Go Challenge. In a space where I don’t know anyone, I’ll scan the room and try to find someone else standing alone, or someone I can notice something to complement them (shoes are usually my go to). Then I take a deep breath and countdown (in my head- please don’t yell your countdown), and I go speak to them. It limits my brain’s time to go into overthinking anxiety mode.

  1. Make Eye Contact.

Important note here, reader. This is not time for your intense gaze, or the smolder, and please, oh please, do not break out Blue Steel for this one (I am not responsible for any outcomes if you conjure Blue Steel). This is simply listening to the voices around you, picking up on a conversation of interest, and then making eye contact with the person talking instead of sneakily listening with your head down. Smile and join the conversation.

Important notes of caution:

If this is someone talking on a phone, make eye contact but then look away- not a great time to engage. If they are spilling the tea, and you engage, you’re joining gossip- not a great time to engage. If it is a speaker on a stage and you make eye contact, sorry, you’re about to be called on stage. Best of luck with that one. So, start small with this challenge, this is powerful. Now that you have these five challenges, you are ready! Start with step one and attempt to complete all 5 challenges this weekend- remember that prioritizing a spirit of giving is not just for the holidays, but serves you and others all year round.