"I'm an introvert so I'm bad at networking." Have you heard yourself say that before? Here are 10 "rules" I hate about being an introvert.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a three-day conference in Montreal, Canada. I learned a lot of things from it, both from a content level (what they were teaching) and on a "meta" level (how to run a great conference). The organisers used some simple techniques to make the conference extra special.
I want to zoom in on one extra special thing that they did. On every attendee's name badge, they indicated whether we were an extrovert, an introvert or an ambivert (which we had indicated on the pre-conference form). I found this very useful. It was a good way to start a conversation and it got all of us thinking about the communication preferences of the people we were talking to, rather than thinking just about what we wanted to say.
You see, I would say that that I'm an introvert. I find socialising quite difficult and it takes a lot (a lot!) of my energy. On the first day of the conference, I made a big mistake regarding my energy, which I discussed in last week's video: How to Manage Energy in Networking as an Introvert
Since the conference ended, I've been thinking about the whole introversion-extroversion thing. It's a fashionable concept at the moment. A lot of people seem to assume that "being an introvert or an extrovert" is an undeniable scientific "fact". As a scientist, this level of "certainty" always makes me want to find out more.
In my opinion, there are 10 very questionable "rules" about being an introvert. Rules which I think are false and unhelpful.
Does Introversion Really Exist?
Before I jump into my 10 ridiculous rules, I want to make a brief nod to the science behind introversion.
You see, there is some research behind it. The idea of introversion-extroversion was popularised by the psychologist Carl Jung. Introversion refers to quiet, reserved behaviour; Extroversion refers to more outgoing, energetic behaviour. Jung proposed that everyone has both of these qualities. He also highlighted a middle-ground — ambiversion — which described people who were introverted in some circumstances and extroverted in others. From the badges that I saw at the conference, I would say that most people identify with this third category.
However, although Jung talked about everyone having an introverted and an extroverted side, recently people have started to talk about "being introverted" or "being extroverted". This idea has gained a lot of traction since the arrival of Susan Cain's book and corresponding TED talk "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking".
The prevailing wisdom these days is that we are either one or the other, introvert or extrovert.
So far, I haven't been able to find any science which backs up this claim. I will outline the science in more detail in future articles. Until I do some deeper research into the topic, I can't yet say what introversion means scientifically (and therefore whether it "exists" in the sense that many people think of it).
What I can say is that it seems that everyone is on the introvert-extrovert scale.
10 Ridiculous Rules About Introverts in Networking
Whether you feel introverted in most situations, or introverted in just some situations, you may have heard some of the following "rules" before. They regard introversion and networking. They're the sort of rules you find in articles on popular sites like the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Lifehack and Buzzfeed.
1. Networking makes you feel fake because you're an introvert
Let's be honest. Networking makes everyone feel fake. It's an unnatural situation which is unlike any other social situation. Personally, I find normal social situations quite difficult. However, I have developed a system for networking which is often very effective. It works for me exactly because networking is an unnatural situation.
2. Networking is hard because you're an introvert
Again, networking is hard for everyone, but for different reasons. Even the most extroverted people I have met often have hangups about networking. For example, most people have some amount of impostor syndrome, which gets in the way of selling themselves, whether they are introverted or not.
3. Introversion is a bad thing in a networking situation
I've found the opposite to be true. When I manage my energy effectively, I think I'm quite a good networker because of my introversion.
I handle my natural fear of interacting with people by preparing thoroughly beforehand. I rehearse what I'm going to say about myself, I think of questions I could ask people, and I warm up before I arrive at the event. As a result, I am often more prepared than those networkers who rely on their own innate abilities.
4. You are either an introvert or an extrovert
As I mentioned above, I have not been able to find any science that says that people are either one or the other (this doesn't necessarily mean the research doesn't exist, just that I haven't found it). In any case, don't avoid uncomfortable situations just because you have given yourself the "introvert" label.
5. Networking drains your energy because you're an introvert
A recent study indicated that everyone (extroverts included) find that socialising drains their energy (or more accurately, few people listed socialising on their list of "restful activities").
Networking is just tiring.
Don't make the mistake I did two weeks ago: manage your energy effectively.
6. You're easily distracted because you're an introvert
There is some research to suggest that introverts are more prone to being distracted — the study tested how well participants performed on a reading test when a television was playing in the background.
Some people say that introverts are therefore more prone to being distracted and that makes them worse in social situations.
I think this is a bit short-sighted. I can tell you from experience that almost everyone is distracted a lot of the time. We all get distracted by different things (thoughts, external stimuli, etc) but we are all prone to distraction. This applies to both introverts and extroverts.
The way to improve this is to do exercises to boost your Presence in networking situations.
7. You hate small talk because you're an introvert
Small talk is a social lubricant. It's not the most interesting type of conversation for anyone (extroverts or introverts). Nobody ever said "You know what I love doing the most in the world? Talking about the weather."
However, a bit of "phatic communication" (the linguistic term for small talk) is necessary.
It's a skill, just like any other aspect of presentation.
8. You don't like meeting new people because you're an introvert
I like meeting new people. Even if you think of yourself as a huge introvert, you probably like meeting new people too.
The thing that I hate is thinking about meeting new people. I hate the fear which comes before I meet new people. I also hate the brain chatter after having met the new people where I doubt myself and fear that I made a bad impression.
However, when I'm actually talking to a new person and I'm getting on well with them and the conversation is interesting, do you know what I'm feeling? — I'm feeling "This is okay! I like talking to this person!".
Hating the fear of something and hating the actual act are quite different.
9. Science says introversion exists
As I've said, there are varied theories of introversion and extroversion. There are also some research studies. However, I've not done enough digging yet to be able to tell you how strong these theories are.
Therefore, I leave this point with a big "To be continued…"
10. Being an introvert defines who you are
I don't know why, but we love to categorise ourselves. Whenever somebody else tries to categorise us ("You're so vain", "You're just like Monica from Friends", "You're a …") we hate it. However, when we're given an opportunity to categorise ourselves, we jump on the chance.
I don't think that saying "I'm an introvert so I'm bad at networking" is very helpful at all. All of the skills necessary to be good at networking are very learnable. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, whether we identify as introverted or not.
Don't restrict your networking abilities by defining yourself by the introvert label.
Be more specific. Identify your networking strengths and use them to your advantage. Identify your networking weaknesses and find strategies to overcome them.