Networking can feel like taking medicine. You know you’re supposed to do it, but you don’t really like to. It’s emotionally and physically draining, and the hand-shaking and small talk can be a drag—even for the most extroverted among us.
However, the value of maintaining and building relationships is well-documented: Quality social connections make us happier, are just as crucial to our health as diet and exercise, and can determine our professional success. In fact, a global survey shows that nearly 80 percent of professionals consider networking important for career growth.
The key is to focus on the “net,” not the “work.” To that end, we gathered four ways to make the most of networking, whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert—or even a bit of both.
1. Take a mindful approach: Setting an intention for yourself will help you bring more meaning to networking and make the most of your time and energy.
For introverts: The first challenge is showing up, so set an intention that bolsters your confidence and commitment. Take a minute to ask yourself, “Why did I decide to say yes to this?” “I do this every time I head to an event,” says Morra Aarons-Mele, author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). “Whether it’s because I have to help put three kids through college or because I want to find more ways to reach other introverts who might be struggling, I tap into the meaning.”
For extroverts: Set an intention to give, not get. In other words, aim to be an asset to others, not to close a sale or land a new client. Ask the people you chat with what they need help doing. When they answer, think of a resource—a website, a business, a book, or a particular person who might be able to help—and make that connection. This allows you to build a relationship that is meaningful, rather than transactional.
2. Have better conversations: Networking is only as successful as the connections you make, which beings with the quality of your conversations. To dive deeper than superficial small talk, keep these guidelines in mind:
For introverts: If you feel nervous, pretend you’re there to report on a story. “Introverts have a natural ability to listen deeply and ask relevant questions. Use it!” Aarons-Mele says. This helps you both at the event itself—and long after it’s over. “When you ask people questions about themselves, you’re remembered as a great conversationalist!”
For extroverts: When you ask a question, remind yourself to actually listen to the other person’s answer. “Even professional interviewers ask a question, and while the other person responds, use those few moments to gather their thoughts for what they’ll say next,” explains branding and media strategist (and fellow meQuilibrium contributor) Terri Trespicio. To help you stay focused, challenge yourself to find one thing in their answer that you can ask a follow-up question about.
3. Be ready for awkward moments: Most events will hit a lull. These strategies can help you redirect your energy so that you end on a high note:
For introverts: Take a bathroom break (whether you need one or not). Being in a smaller, more intimate space gives you a moment to yourself and the chance to recharge. “Even a short, friendly conversation by the sink while you’re re-applying your lipstick will get your social juices flowing and make entering that large room again easier,” Aarons-Mele says. “All you need to do is smile at someone in the mirror.”
For extroverts: If you’ve been happily chatting away but realize you don’t remember the other person’s name, all is not lost. “Most people are great with faces, bad with names—we’re animals and have been using our eyes longer than we’ve used language,” Trespicio explains. She suggests asking the person you’re talking with to spell their name so you can envision it. Then, use their name right away, at least twice, to help establish the memory. To really make the name stick, intro that person to someone else.
4. End on a positive note: How you end an experience influences how you remember it—which then impacts how likely you are to repeat that experience. To set the stage for more successful networking in the future, give yourself a reward when the event is over.
For introverts: That might mean takeout and Netflix (or room service and a movie if you’re at a conference), time alone with a great book, or a long walk—whatever you like to do. “You want to train yourself to get better at this and enjoy it more, so that you’ll be more game to attend the next event,” Aarons-Mele says.
For extroverts: The lift you get from connecting with others may be enough of an afterglow. Savor it.
Kate Hanley is a personal development coach and the author of How to Be a Better Person and Stress Less. She writes regularly on how to manage stress and take care of the many important parts of life. Visit her at katehanley.com.