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The Networking Challenge: Can We Go From Introverts To Superconnectors In A Month?

Join resident habit expert Rachel Gillett, and other Fast Company staff on Friday, March 13 at 11 a.m. EST as we discuss what happened when we stepped out of our shells to become better networkers.

When it comes to networking, there are two ends of the spectrum. On one side is the guy at the party who seems to know everyone and thrives on helping you meet meaningful connections—we call them superconnectors. 

On the other end is someone like me, someone whose stomach churns at the idea of spending non-work time trying to get a leg up in the world by talking to total strangers. This habit challenge seeks to bring people like me a little closer to the center.

Here's how it works:

WEEK 1: TALK TO YOUR COWORKERS

Ask some coworkers you’re friendly with to invite different coworkers to lunch or coffee. Use this low-pressure situation as an opportunity to practice your conversation skills. Start with mastering the art of small talk and honing your listening skills, two keys to getting the conversation going. And make sure you use social media meaningfully to follow up with your new work connections and schedule second dates.

WEEK 2: HELP A LONG-LOST FRIEND

We all have connections we've lost touch with over the years—this week we'll reach out to some of them.

"When you haven't seen people in three or five years, you can't predict what novel ideas and networks they'll be able to share," observed Wharton professor and Give and Take author Adam Grant. "And it turns out that the older you get, the more valuable dormant ties become. Along with having more of them, they've had more time to meet amazing people and accomplish amazing things."

According to researchers Daniel Z. Levin, Jorge Walter, and J. Keith Murnighan, who coined the term "dormant ties," the payoffs of dormant ties are three-fold:

  1. Dormant ties are sources of "unexpectedly novel insights"
  2. Reconnecting happens rapidly, making the time investment "minimal"
  3. A reconnection isn't a new relationship: "People still have feelings of trust and a shared perspective, which are critical for receiving valuable knowledge from someone."

Instead of asking your old friends for help, practice searching for ways to help them, either by sharing knowledge, making introductions that will benefit them, or generally becoming a renewed source of meaning and happiness.

WEEK 3: ATTEND A CASUAL NETWORKING EVENT

Ease into group networking with a local Meetup or event of like-minded professionals. It’ll be that much easier to strike up conversations with strangers when you already know one of their interests or hobbies.

Use this as an opportunity to practice reading the room and entering into conversations with different groups (and arrangements) of people. Use these body-language tips to gauge the best approaches:

  • People at events tend to congregate in groups of ones, twos, and threes. Approach the "ones" first. They are people just like yourself, shy to engage with others; they will be the most welcoming.

  • Twos and threes are more difficult to approach. Look for two people standing in an open V formation—they are usually open to others joining their discussion. Avoid people standing directly across from each other; this indicates they are engaged in a closed conversation.

  • If you want to enter a conversation between two people to talk to someone you know, approach the other person he is speaking to and ask permission from him to join.

  • For groups of three or more, look to join groups arranged in a U formation rather than the closed-off O formation. They are more open to people joining the group.

  • And don't forget to practice your body mirroring to establish rapport.

WEEK 4: ATTEND THE DREADED INDUSTRY NETWORKING EVENT

Take everything you’ve learned over the last few weeks and put it to good use at an industry event. Your goal this week is to not only make meaningful connections for yourself, but to help others connect in a meaningful way.

I hope you'll join us as we venture to become our better, more connected selves.

Join us here on Friday, March 13 at 11 a.m. ET as we discuss what happened when we stepped out of our shells to become better networkers. 



    Just got some lunch with @RosePastore and @OutOnALumb. Who knew this #networkingchallenge would be so delicious fastcompany.com/3042365/work-s…
    For week 2 of the #networkingchallenge, we'll be reaching out to some old friends. More on that here: fastcompany.com/3042365/work-s…
    As part of Fast Company's #networkingchallenge, I had lunch last week with Hanh Nguyen and Andrea Chesleigh from Rent the Runway. on.fb.me
    Comment ()
    Last week I asked my coworker Rose to invite another colleague, David, to join us for lunch--and on the walk to our lunch spot I felt very deeply the true awkwardness of this scenario.

    The issue wasn’t that the three of us are socially inept. On the contrary, I think we were all acutely aware of the social connotation when one party asks another to lunch. One can’t help but wonder, what’s the motivation here, what’s the angle? I think keeping to ourselves at work, at least for my part, has become such the modus operandi that one wonders why anyone would want to break out of their comfort zone.

    As we sat down to eat, I wanted to dispel any fears of a hidden agenda. Our networking lunch was simply an occasion to get out of the office, make some connections, and get to know each other better. After brushing the initial awkwardness aside, we enjoyed a delicious family-style meal of somosas, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala, lamb korma, and naan. We ate like kings, kvetched like yentas, and it was great.
    Comment ()
    Last week I reconnected with a former editor and friend from my days at Patch. I introduced him to a colleague who is working on a project I thought he could really help with. Unfortunately, I never heard back from him.

    There are a few reasons we thought this challenge would help us become better networkers. For one thing, we already know these people we’re reconnecting with, so the time investment is minimal and they already (hopefully) trust us.

    Instead of asking our connections for help, we chose to instead share knowledge or resources that could benefit them. To be honest, I don’t know if my attempt at reconnecting was helpful to my old friend or my coworker. But I did end up taking something away from the experience. I took a step towards what makes a superconnector super, which is honing relationships that interest us beyond professional gain.

    Next up, I’ll be heading to a meetup to practice my conversation skills in a low-stress situation.
    Comment ()
    The most interesting part of the challenge for me so far, last week I eased into group networking by attending a casual Meetup. The day of the Meetup I contemplated excuses not to go: The weather was gross, I had a lot of work to do, and I wasn’t feeling 100%. But a half hour after I finally forced myself out the door, I sheepishly approached a woman with knitting needles poking out of her bag in the café and asked if she was part of the knitting Meetup—I had indeed arrived. 

    You should know that I’m not incapable of socializing, holding conversations, or generally functioning in the real world. It’s just that these social activities are draining for me, and at the end of a long, tiring workday, this is the last thing I want to do.

    Unlike extroverts, who according to Psychology Today make up about 3/4 of the American population and replenish their energy levels by interacting socially with other people, I much prefer my inner monologue to dialogue with a stranger.

    Personally, I rather listen than to speak and I’m not a huge fan of small-talk--if we’re going to chat, I’d rather talk about something meaningful, which doesn’t always make for the best party conversation. I need plenty of “me” time to recharge--for one thing, I get really anxious when I overplan my weekends--and a lot of the time I need to feel mentally prepared before I can talk to new or estranged people. All of this, I’ve been told, makes me a textbook introvert.

    Until very recently, the World Health Organization considered introverted personality a potential mental health problem, and a few years ago the American Psychiatric Association had considered listing introversion as a contributing factor to some personality disorders. But more and more these days people are rejecting the idea that introversion is some sort of flaw or deep, dark secret. At Fast Company, for example, we’ve run numerous stories about how introverts succeed by being true to themselves and making their personality traits work for them. 

    This week’s challenge was a great example of how introverts can succeed at an activity people typically reserve for the extroverts of the world.

    The beauty of the casual meetup in my experience is threefold:

    1. The conversation is low-pressure

    At my knitting Meetup, I talked to a really interesting group of ladies. One woman worked in TV, another in radio, a third was a breast cancer researcher. But none of us lingered too long on our jobs and what we do for a living—we were essentially there to put that behind us. Instead we easily engaged in conversations about knitting, which at times transitioned into deeper conversations. 

    2. You can really excel at listening

    Because the casual Meetup was low-pressure, I didn’t feel the need to fill pauses with some interesting nugget of information. I participated in the conversation as it was appropriate, and I enjoyed sitting back and listening to what everyone else had to say.

    3. You can keep it short

    Two hours of knitting felt like a very minimal time commitment, and I walked away feeling like I could even do more. The time flew by very quickly, and I had enough left at the end of the evening to recharge before bed.
    Comment ()
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