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Zack Scores With "Networking for People Who Hate Networking"

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 12/12/10

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My guest today is Devora Zack, president of Only Connect Consulting, Inc., and author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, The Overwhelmed, and The Underconnected. She is also an avowed introvert. Welcome to OpEdNews, Devora. Up until now, there has been a stigma against people who don't excel at networking or who choose to opt out of the process entirely. Yet, in your introduction, you mention that we (the non-extroverts) are actually in the majority. If that is true, how have we come to feel so inept in the networking department and what can we do about it?

photo credit: Only Connect Consulting Inc.
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Thank you, Joan. Until now, networking has been positioned as a very extrovert-centric activity. All the standard 'rules' of networking feed into the extrovert's arena - surround yourself with others, maintain constant contact, attend as as many social events as possible, and be a whiz at small talk! Extroverts talk to think, energize around others, and go wide in their interests, [so] this version of networking works fine.

However, introverts think to talk, energize solo or one-on-one, and go for depth; we are like oil to vinegar for these kinds of rules! We feel inept because we cannot possibly shine by fighting our natural instincts and being phony.

Luckily, my new book introduces a whole new version of networking customized for introverts. Our previously labeled liabilities become our greatest networking strengths. Now, introverts can be confident, successful, authentic networkers.

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That will be such a relief for all of the non-extroverts out there who were felling like failures! What are these formerly hidden or unappreciated strengths we have and can you give an example or two of how we can use them to our advantage?

Listening, for starters. A big misconception is you need to be a big talker to network. Au contraire! Listening - an introvert super-strength - is a much more useful skill. Truly focusing on another person and asking thoughtful questions is a missing element at all to many events and the best way to show (not tell) how fabulous you are.

Because 'going deep' is a defining characteristic, introverts naturally delve deeper into conversation and relationships than others. This means they tend to notice and respond to subtle non-verbal messages, while also driving conversation beyond the superficial. This talent, when tapped, is key to building rapport and longer lasting, meaningful relationships.

So, it's not simply that the one with the largest collection of business cards wins. Coming away with a few good contacts can still be considered a successful outing. In the book, you tell of your stint as a dj in college. It's a great example of what we've been talking about. Can you reprise the story for us?

Less truly is more. Concluding a networking event with a few solid contacts is much more successful than weighing down your briefcase with a slew of undifferentiated business cards. Follow up is key, and personalized follow up is better - much more likely and manageable with fewer, deeper connections.

I was a DJ in college. This was a great job for me as an introvert who also loves music. Introverts prefer defined roles at events rather than milling aimlessly through a party, event, or conference. Being the DJ provided the platform of a specific role while enabling me to enjoy the event without needing to make small talk - everyone knows the DJ is busy playing music!

photo credit: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
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Fear not, network-phobes: Networking for People Who Hate Networking is deft but gentle, underlining that while we can't escape the need for networking, it doesn't have to be a painful process. In fact, your book reads like an expanded advice column for the network-challenged but without all the "Dear Devora" letters. Is that intentional?

I hadn't thought of it that way before! However, it was absolutely intentional to write a book that would be an enjoyable, upbeat sometimes irreverent read, packed with useful, immediately applicable ideas. Based on feedback and reviews, that goal has been accomplished. In the introduction, I say no one should waste time engaged in activities that aren't enjoyable. This is written in the context of networking. The same goes for reading a book. Why bore yourself to tears plodding through a dry, lifeless read? I modeled the book's style on how I present to groups - fast-paced, fun, and goal oriented.

Well, it was definitely a fun read. At least part of that was due to the reassurance that I wasn't doomed just because I hate networking, or should I say, I hated networking. Part of it was also due to the very cute and whimsical illustrations. There's an interesting story behind that. Can you share it with our readers?

Yes, the executive managing editor of Berrett-Koehler, Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, is also the illustrator of my book. He is incredibly multi-talented! The entire process has been a big collaboration between myself and BK, and in particular, Jeevan. It takes a village to write a book!

I bet it does. You stress that while you don't have to network all the time, everything is (or can be) a networking opportunity. Tell us about the time you didn't listen to your own advice.

It is too easy to forget the forest for the trees. Life, for better or worse, is a networking event. I learned this the hard way while an MBA grad student at Cornell. Unbeknownst to me, I was seated next to the illustrious Dean on a flight to NYC. I was so focused on my own work, I brushed off his warm openings to conversation. Only after the flight - too late - did I realize who he was and my foolish lost opportunity.

I'm sure you never made that mistake again. When did you first realize that you were an introvert, Devora, as opposed to just shy or dysfunctional?

I discovered I am an introvert - and what introversion truly means - when I was first certified in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in 1994. Introversion is a very misunderstood term. There are just three basic distinctions between introverts and extroverts:
  • Introverts think to talk, extroverts talk to think.
  • Introverts energize alone, extroverts energize with other.
  • Introverts go deep, extroverts go wide. (ie extroverts prefer more people, more activity, more stimuli)
That's it. Notice there is no correlation with being high or low energy, or 'Type A/Type B'. I mention this because many people erroneously equate introversion with being passive or low energy for some reason - which is not necessarily true at all.

I've never heard about this Myers-Briggs Type Indicator but if it helped propel you on your path to this book, I'm grateful. Over the years, you have given many seminars, lectures, and presentations on networking and other topics. Yet, at heart, you are still an introvert. How do you handle public events of this sort without overloading?

The key is understanding.

Okay. Understanding is good. Could you please flesh this answer out a bit, Devora? I think understanding the Devora who's an official introvert alongside the Devora who's an author, successful public speaker and networker is key to the premise of this book.

The key is understanding and honoring your preferences. I am able to provide so many seminars, lectures, and presentations by allocating what I call "I-time" (introvert time) between programs. This means allowing time to recharge, re-energize, and focus between programs. I-time is imperative for high-performance introverts regardless of occupation.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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