I was recently invited to speak at a women’s panel at Meta on Networking. At first, I resisted because I have never been drawn to networking in the traditional sense of a happy hour on a Thursday night in a crowded bar. But then, the organizer challenged me that I should bring “my” perspective on building meaningful relationships without the happy hours and the high heels to this group. 

Read along for why I believe networking can be hard for many of us introverts and some alternative ways to build connection, community, and trust both to find joy as well as advance our ideas and talent and contribute more fully in the world around us!

I paused and reflected on the shared experience of many humans who probably resist many parts of the networking playbook that has been prescribed as “the” way to make new connections and deepen existing relationships. But like most things in work and life, there is often another way to get to the same outcome and in this case, it’s about the joy, connection, and growth that comes from people who you can trust, solve problems and create memories with and those who you can open doors for and those who can do the same for you.

First, know that you are not alone if you cringe at the idea of networking that’s essentially designed for extroverts. Many of these events intended to bring people together can actually be exclusionary for many especially parents with younger kids, those with sensitivity to loud noises and large crowds or those who don’t drink alcohol, and more. Many of these events can feel performative where the intent becomes more of sharing your wins and successes vs. genuine connection and collaboration. The time pressures of adding one more thing to the calendar are very real for certain groups of people in certain seasons of life. And finally, the fear of not belonging, and the emotional risks of rejection can be sufficient to hold us back from showing up, and sharing our beliefs and ideas about a current event or lived experience.

To be clear, I am not against events and celebrations especially coming out of the pandemic and quarantine, social gatherings hold special significance for so many of us even introverts like myself. But, they come with their limitations and if you fall into the camp of wanting to build meaningful relationships for your career and are exploring more authentic and sustainable ways to do so as an introvert in an already full season, please read along!

Start with being intentional with what it is you want to achieve and how you’d want to feel by investing more in relationships. Are you looking to switch careers, advance in your current field of work, mentor and advise others, connect with other experts in your field or simply broaden your horizon and build stronger, deeper connections? Reflect on what mediums, spaces, and avenues have best supported this for you.? What can make this a want to engage in activity vs. a should on my to-do list?

Here are some ideas on getting started or deepening what you’ve already started.

  1. Make a commitment to 2 virtual coffees a month. Depending on your intentions, these could be in your organization, your chosen field of work, something you want to transition to, or simply someone completely different from you. You could pick a few questions and also leave room for serendipitous detours. 
  2. Join small group gatherings. Some can be facilitated groups on a specific topic with specific outcomes others can be more around shared interests, values, or aspirations. 
  3. Share your point of view on social media and engage with people with whom you’d like to build a relationship in person or virtually. 
  4. Make the most of in-person interactions at an offsite, event, or even when you go to the office. Plan ahead and think of the key people you want to meet and what you are hoping to connect with them on. 
  5. Start something on your own around the people you want to get to know better. It could be a book club, a family volunteering group, or a monthly international potluck
  6. And finally, don’t forget the power of serendipity –  an interesting conversation with a stranger at a hotel or bookstore. 

Most importantly, focus on providing value and that doesn’t always mean having a ton of information or advice on a topic. Sometimes, connecting them to someone else, acknowledging them for what they are bringing to the table, or just seeking to understand their perspective can be a huge gift. Keep a running list of interesting topics, stories that have moved you, and key pieces of your own story to find common ground. Don’t forget the power of asking open-ended questions, reflecting back on what you hear, and the power of deep listening. 

Over to you, what are some of your ideas on building meaningful relationships and expanding what it means to network to have not just a meaningful and fulfilling career but a joyful and rich life full of beautiful relationships? What has helped you and what is one thing you want to try out next week?

Pic Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

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