Debunking the myth that extraverts make better networkers
The world is awash in myths and bad advice about networking. The most insidious of all might be the myths that involve the notion of extraversion, often prodding those of us of the introvert persuasion to “just be more extraverted.” While it’s absolutely true that you must be visible to be successful, building professional relationships in a meaningful way is infinitely more nuanced than simply being more extraverted.
The bias towards extraversion has helped perpetuate the wasteful idea that networking is about attending events. And with everyone thinking that they must attend more events, networking has somehow become equated with meeting new people. After all, what else do you do when you attend an event? Oy vey.
Limiting your networking to meeting new people might be fine if you have a hobby of collecting business cards, but if your goal is to build a rich professional network of mutually beneficial relationships, you’ll want to look beyond extraversion and events.
As a case in point, consider the well-intended article “How to Network Like an Extrovert (Even if You’re an Introvert).” It is littered with a few of the more egregious variations on this theme: Here are just a few of the mythical gems espoused in the article:
- “schmoozing requires practice, coaching, and a lot of courage,” assuming that network is about schmoozing and meeting new people.
- “Choose events and organizations that matter to you,” presumably so that you can be more interesting or engaged or extraverted at such events.
- “Find the right time … it’s best to network when you’re at your best and can maintain your energy and a positive attitude.”
- “Practice your skills,” or, in other words, practice being more extraverted.
First of all, what’s extraversion got to do with it?
Networking skills are a subset of social skills — and social skills are learned. Neither introverts or extraverts are born with social skills. We learn them. In fact, I have found a slight negative correlation between networking skills and a preference for extraversion. I attribute this to the fact that extraverts — often more comfortable in social situations — often think that they are better networkers. As such, they have not invested the time and energy to learn a rich suite of networking skills.
Introverts and extraverts learn networking skills equally well. Some do. Many do not. Good networking skills are not natural to anyone. They are learned.
Whether or not you have mastered a set of networking skills depends mostly on your upbringing, your emotional maturity, your self-awareness, your aspirations, your ambition, and your deliberate investment in learning networking skills. It has very little to do with your innate preference for introversion and extraversion.
Granted, extraverts have a natural propensity to be congenial and talkative. They connect easily with other people and often have a broad base of acquaintances. Many extraverts are continuously on the lookout for new people and are generous in making introductions.
However, these behaviors are not necessarily “networking.”
What is networking anyway?
Networking is actually much more than stereotypical extroverted behaviors. It’s about creating and nurturing meaningful connections with people. This is where the differences between introverts and extraverts really shine. In Helpful, I define networking as “any activity for you that creates, freshens, or strengthens a relationship.” Conversely, any activity that does not create, freshen, or strengthen a relationship — for you — is not networking for you.
The “for you” is important. Introverts create and nurture relationships very differently. An introvert can no more nurture a relationship the way an extravert does than she can write fluently with her opposite hand. This does not mean that introverts are precluded from meaningful relationships. On the contrary, it means that you lean into your strengths preferences wherever you fall on the I/E spectrum and build relationships in a way that works best for you and the person to whom you are connecting.
There is no “one size fits all” in networking
There is no “one” way to network. And there is certainly no need to be more extraverted to be a better networker. Anything that creates, freshens and strengthens links — for you — is networking. Anything! And any activity that does not create, freshen, or strengthen a link for you is not networking — for you!
Secondly, who said networking is about events?
We have somehow come to equate networking with attending events. I think this has come about because we have also come to think of networking as meeting new people. WTF?
As noted above, networking may be about meeting new people — i.e., creating new relationships — but most of the time it’s about freshening and strengthening the connections you already have with the people you already know. It’s about sharing who and what you know to help other people be successful. It is about the constant exchange of favors and information. Do you really think that these nurturing activities have much to do with attending events — or being extraverted? Neither do I.
My book Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking is a deep dive into everything related to networking. From the fundamental mindset that we touched on in this article to the nuances of using LinkedIn, or the power of networking at work, it is the definitive guide to building and maintaining professional relationships in a meaningful way.
I wish you success.
Originally published November 28, 2013 as “Is it true? Do extraverts make better networkers?” Significantly revised and enhanced November 25, 2019
Heather Hollick has been helping others become better leaders and craft more meaningful careers for more than 25 years. Her experience spans both business and technology, operations and organizational development. Oh, and she was born in Canada, so she can't help but be helpful. 😉