Have you found yourself dreading a work event? Or at a happy hour leaning against the wall, checking your phone, and waiting for a chance to leave?
Almost every introvert has a story like this, a time where meeting new people felt uncomfortable and conversation was difficult. I’m a strong introvert, and I know meeting new people is important – especially for my career. But I’ve had countless times where I would rather be home alone. How can an introvert like me meet people in a comfortable, authentic way?
In this post, I want to share with you some of the myths that we’re told about introversion and meeting new people. In debunking these myths, we’ll see that introverts have big advantages when it comes to meeting new people, and it’s about time we recognized those advantages.
The limiting beliefs I had about networking
So why, then, do introverts believe we’re bad at meeting new people? I did a lot of reading, experimentation, and surveys of introverts to try to get to the bottom of these “Introvert Networking Myths.” Again and again, I found the same few limiting beliefs that stopped introverts from meeting new people:
- “Some people are born extroverts. I’m just not wired to be good at talking to people.”This is one of the most common limiting beliefs. When I tested this belief, I found that people actually prefer talking to introverts. Why? We’re better listeners. And that active listening translates into deeper conversations and more interesting relationships. As an introvert, when I reframed my approach, social interactions got so much easier. I realized I didn’t have to be talking the whole time, and I could play to my strengths – listening and asking questions.
- “If I approach somebody, they’ll see through me. They’ll think I’m schmoozing and phony.”Here’s another limiting belief where we tell ourselves one thing, when the reality is the opposite. One of the biggest advantages introverts have is authenticity and genuine curiosity. I found that when I approached conversations with good questions and honesty, people responded to my authenticity. In fact, being curious will always stand out in a party or networking event of people talking about “me, me, me.”
- “I don’t need to meet new people. If I just be myself, eventually I will get noticed for the promotion/raise/relationship/award.”
It would be great if we lived in a world where the promotion always went to those who deserve it most. Unfortunately, we don’t, and even as introverts we have to find a way to communicate our value. It’s not enough to do good work in a vacuum. We have to meet and share our work with other people in order to have an impact.
When I started to question and test my limiting beliefs, the “Introvert Networker Myths” began to fall apart. I realized that meeting new people and being introverted did not have to be mutually exclusive.
But there was still the question of what to say when meeting someone new. How could I meet new people in a way that wasn’t exhausting as an introvert?
The problem with traditional “conversation skills advice”
Most advice books and articles you read on meeting new people give the same, overused advice:
- ● “Just walk up to as many people as you can and start talking!”
- ● “Prepare an elevator pitch, so you can talk about yourself”
- ● “Make sure to think up some great stories so that you can keep the conversation going!”
I don’t know about you, but just about all of this advice goes against my natural personality and inclinations. So often, we introverts are expected to just put on extroverted traits in order to get by. Well, I’ve tested these approaches, and I’m here to tell you that they’re not even that effective at building long term relationships.
Do you see what all the above approaches have in common? They all focus on ME, at the expense of the other people in the conversation.
For introverts, the natural inclination is to reflect on what has been said already. Our minds are much louder than our mouths. When it comes to building intrigue and authentic connection, that’s actually an advantage. However, there’s a difference between quiet intrigue and quiet boredom in a conversation. Let’s see how we can make sure we’re intriguing.
How to build intrigue and authentic connection as an introvert
There’s such a thing as small talk purgatory. It’s when a conversation stalls and never moves beyond the “what do you do” and “where are you from” phase. I want to show you the simplest way I’ve found to get out of it.
Here’s the secret right up front: Talking less and asking more questions is the best way to move beyond small talk and into interesting conversation. The deeper the conversation goes, the more intriguing you become as a conversation partner.
How does it work?
At first, your conversations will begin as small talk. That’s okay. Small talk is an important part of human social interaction. It’s our way of developing rapport, empathy, and comfort with one another. Don’t try to go too deep too fast with your conversations. (If you struggle with small talk even, take some time to practice the basics. There’s really no substitute for a minute or two of get-to-know-you time.)
At some point in the first few exchanges, your conversation partner will say something interesting, something that piques your curiosity. This is your opportunity to ask a follow-up question. Don’t be afraid to politely interrupt in order to ask your question. It shows genuine interest. Almost any follow-up question will do, as long as it digs a little deeper into the story of the other person.
When the person answers your follow-up, look for a secondary follow-up opportunity. Asking a second question digs even deeper and will usually get you to an interesting story or little-known fact about the person. Now we’re getting somewhere. You’ve already learned more about the person than most people ever will. AND, you’ve done it without having to talk a lot yourself – just two simple questions.
But there’s one more step that I’ve found seals the deal. After your second follow-up, use a sentence that begins with “It must have been…” to comment on the person’s experience. We use a sentence here – instead of a question – to avoid the conversation feeling like an interrogation. For example, “It must have been a challenge growing up in such a rural area and then moving to the city…” or “It must have been interesting switching from management consulting to marketing…” Sentences like these will almost always receive a response along the lines of “Oh, yeah, it was so difficult because…” and now we’re off to the races.
This simple system is far from foolproof, but it works successfully for me about 90% of the time. It can be tricky and taxing to think up questions, but the payoff is huge. You can rinse and repeat and vary the structure throughout your conversation.
The greatest benefit, to me, is that I don’t have to spend much time talking. Of course, I will add my part whenever my conversation partner asks, but then I’ll switch back to questions. My rule of thumb is to be talking only 20% of any given conversation. When the conversation has peaked, usually about 5 minutes in, I’ll begin to think about leaving the conversation. The worst thing is having a conversation fizzle. Instead, I like to leave on a high note in the conversation. That way, the person remembers the conversation fondly, and I can pick the conversation back up with them later if I want.
Over to you
The more you practice this simple system, the easier it gets. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below about your biggest challenges making conversation. Do any of the “Introvert Networker Myths” apply to you? Share your insights and questions in the comments below!
Guest post by Bennett Garner of comfortableconversation.com
Struggling to get beyond small talk and into interesting conversation? Check out my free Definitive Guide to Introvert Networking to get scripts, strategies, and in-depth teardowns for meeting new people. Join my i nsider’s list for access to exclusive material and monthly resources for introverts.
Thanks for the advice.
I use the introverts beliefs primarily as an excuse to avoid approaching people.
It feels awkward for me leaving a conversation. At times I converse with people and I feel like I’m getting exhausted and losing my attention. At that point it my mind starts racing about making the person talking to me feel bad for just telling him I should take a break and talk later or something, but it goes in my mind until the other person leaves.
Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comment Alex. It must be difficult and frustrating to force yourself to stay in a conversation you don’t enjoy. Does asking questions help with keeping your attention? If the other person asks your opinion or your experience, would that help keep you engaged?
Great post Brenda,
I really like your suggestion to engage in a conversation and open up with a question and a follow up. As an introvert myself, I have found that approach to work very well and have found success in getting an initial conversation flowing as well as building up an existing relationship. I also appreciate your insight on adding in a phrase such as “that must have made you feel…” to avoid the feeling of an interrogation Great thoughts!
Hi Bill! Thanks for reading on my website.:) I can’t take credit for that particular post. It was a guest post written by Bennett Garner. I really liked it and wanted to share it with my readers. I too, use questions to keep conversations engaging and flowing. I like to learn about other people. I sense that you have that curiosity and interest in people as well. I loved Bennett’s suggestion to start a sentence with “That must have made you feel…” It takes the conversation deeper. Thank you for sharing the post on Facebook as well! Hope things are heavenly in NC.