Small talk and 5 other traits introverts must improve upon

breakroomWhen my colleagues are chatting away during lunch, I like to join their conversation which is usually about current affairs, television shows, or other topics extraverts seem to enjoy and master with ease.

I do my best to break into their banter, picking the right opportunity to voice my views. But at times choosing my words seems like work. I’m not unusual in this way–finding making small talk difficult–other introverts have expressed the same frustration.

Being comfortable making small talk is one trait I admire in extraverts. Other extravert traits I admire are:

Ability to promote themselves. Extraverts have the gift of gab, and we all know that verbal communications is more direct and timely than written communications. While I feel comfortable sending an e-mail to my manager about my accomplishments, extraverts would go directly to her office and talk about their accomplishments. This confidence they display I erroneously misconstrue for conceit.

Solution. Before approaching the manager to speak of their accomplishments, introverts should formulate what they’re going to say. It may be helpful to write down some talking points on their accomplishments before approaching the manager. They should also remember to smile.

Ease of networking. Most extraverts will tell you they have no problem entering a room full of people and striking up a conversation. Most introverts will tell you this takes effort and is often uncomfortable, and some introverts will tell you they fear networking, both for professional and job-search purposes. Therefore they don’t network and miss out on valuable opportunities.

Solution. Introverts should not network like extraverts. I tell my jobseekers that introverts can network; they just do it differently. Instead of working the room, they feel more comfortable in smaller groups and engaging in deeper conversation.

Boundless energy. Presenting in front of a group doesn’t scare me. By most accounts I’m quite good at it. However, after conducting three workshops a day, my brain feels like mash potatoes. Extraverts, on the other hand, can talk till the sun goes down. Where extraverts may run into problems is not taking time to ask questions and listen to their attendees. Introverts are said to be better listeners. Still, it’s nice to have the endurance to talk with people for eternity.

Solution. Introverts should take advantage of downtime to recharge their battery. I retreat to my cubicle where I can rest my mind and reflect on the next workshop to come. When colleagues approach me during my down time, I tell them I’m busy with important work…even if I’m not. Introverts must take any opportunity they have to re-charge their batteries so they can be ready to jump back into action.

Conflict management. Well-known psychologist and author, Marti Olsen LaneyPsy.D, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, asserts that introverts are not as strong at conflict resolution as extraverts are. She writes that introverts avoid conflict as much as possible, and I see her point.

Solution. In order to be good at conflict management, introverts must choose their battles and formulate their thoughts before jumping into the foray. When an answer to an accusation is called for, introverts should ask for time to think about their response. I feel this way when I’m asked to defend my actions.

Participating at meetings. I tell my MBTI workshop attendees that introverts have wonderful ideas but often let those ideas go unheard because they fail to speak up at meetings. The extraverts dominate the discussion because they feel uncomfortable when there is silence. Silence is not a problem for introverts.

Solutions. Arrive with talking points or write them as you’re listening to the other members of the group. When your ideas warrant being introduced, don’t wait passively for your turn; speak out regardless of etiquette. I feel strongly about being forceful, as evident by the time I jumped in front of one of my extraverted colleagues in order to express my thoughts. He took offense, but he’d already had his 500-word limit.

My admiration for extraverts makes me think about how I can improve on the aforementioned strengths they possess. I’ve witnessed them in my extraverted colleagues and friends; as I’ve also witnessed introverts weaknesses. With some practice, introverts can improve upon their weaknesses, and extraverts can tone it down.

4 ways to avoid a bad experience at networking events

listenRecently I attended a networking event which left me with the feeling that I must have had the words, “Talk at me” written on my forehead. Not, “Listen to what I have to say. You may actually be interested.”

In other words, I didn’t get a word in edgewise. It got to the point where the words spewing out of peoples’ mouths were simply noise that I had to block out, lest I ran from the room screaming.

It’s not like wanted to be the one who did all the talking–I didn’t–or that I expected people to abide by Robert’s Rules of Order–that’s a bit extreme. I just didn’t want to feel like I was a sounding board.

I’m being a bit dramatic. I had great conversations with a photographer who explained how he programs meta tags  into people’s LinkedIn photos to optimize their profile—I still don’t understand that. Another person I spoke to talked about the  networking groups she started, demonstrating her concern for jobseekers. A third person I spoke with is someone for whom I wrote a LinkedIn profile, someone I met at this group years ago.

No, it was just a few people who chewed my ear off and made the whole night a lousy experience. Complaining about people who talk too much is becoming a common theme with me. As I think about the night and how I could have participated more and not simply been a sounding board, I’ve come to realize four things I need to do better to prepare for networking events.

1. Have exit phrases. I don’t have any “exit” phrases to use when people want to hear themselves talk and could care less about what I have to contribute. This doesn’t only apply to people who attend networking events; I run across this in my daily life.

One of my valued connections and an excellent networker, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch, told me having exit phrases are essential. Ingrid is a job coach who seems to know everyone and attends networking events all the time. She never has this problem.

I realize I need phrases that will release me from their grip of constant verbiage that makes my eyes turn to stone. I know I can’t say, “Please, for the love of God, stop talking.” No, that wouldn’t work. The following would be better:

“Please forgive me, I was heading for the bar to get a drink for myself and a friend of mine.” 

“A person I’ve been meaning to speak to has arrived. Would you excuse me?”

“It just occurred to me that I have to remind the host of an idea I have for her.”

“I’d like to hear more about your product/situation. Let me take your business card and we’ll follow up.”

Of course, none of these came to mind.

2. Get the message across. I have to get my messages across. I have to remember that feeling of anger I had and, in the future, be bent on doing most of the talking, almost to the point where I’m the one dominating the conversation….

Naw, that’s not good networking, and that’s not me. I believe in equal time. I believe in courteousness, where everyone gets heard. But some people could care less about others’ right to talk, which seems disrespectful to me. I’ve noticed that some people converse as if its a dueling match, but that’s not me. “As I was saying,” often works for me when I want the floor.

3. Ask questions. If I don’t understand what the person is talking about, instead of nodding as though I understand what she’s saying. This slows the gushing of words pouring from her mouth and helps me contribute to the discussion.

“So are you saying you’re looking for a job in marketing, more specifically social media? That’s interesting. I teach courses on LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogging. Social media is dominating the landscape in some marketing departments. Would you like to take my business card and follow up with me?”

4. Be mentally prepared. I have to prepare myself. Some pundits believe that introverts may be slower on the uptake when it comes to small talk or self-promotion.

Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extroverted World, claims that introverts are physiologically slower than extraverts when expressing themselves. They need to formulate their thoughts before speaking, lest they say something unintelligible.

I notice that I’m at my best against loquacious types when my adrenaline is higher than usual. I’m more animated and expressive. This can take some preparation before going to a networking event by getting in the mood to attend, somewhat difficult for introverts.

I enjoy attending networking events but what I experienced that night is what gives networking a bad name. Connecting at these events should be a natural process, one of give and take; not one where you leave with your head spinning.

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7 tips for introverts on going to networking events

I was once given a ticket to a guest-speaker event put on for a group of young professionals in my community. I was excited and grateful for the opportunity because I’d be seeing Erik Qualman speak about social media–Erik wrote Socialnomics and is a great speaker. I would be able to sit comfortably and listen to an expert on social networking entertain me. So I thought.

When I arrived at the event I discovered there would be a networking hour preceding it, and that I was woefully under dressed. My vision of kicking back and listening to a great speaker was dashed when I entered a hallway full of people dressed to the nines engaged in conversation. I promptly went to the men’s room, looked at my sad self in the mirror, and exited the building.

I needed air. It took me a few minutes to collect myself and prepare for an unfamiliar group of well-dressed people I’d be meeting (or hiding from). I was starting to feel like I was in a dream where I was in one of my workshops dressed in my underwear only. But I promptly re-entered the building and (luckily) spotted someone I knew.

An article titled Networking for Introverts brings to mind some great points, namely: 1) network on your own terms, 2) create a comfortable environment for yourself, 3) leverage your skills as an introvert. All of these suggestions were negated the moment I entered the large hall.

I have seven tips to add to Karl Stark’s and Bill Stewart’s article, all of which advise that introverts prepare for a networking event, not simply go with eyes closed–I’m proof of this. Here are my six tips.

  1. Know what’s on the agenda. In retrospect the first thing I should have asked when accepting the ticket to this event was what kind of event it was going to be. Instead I gratefully accepted the ticket  from a benefactor failing to ask a very important question, “What is the agenda  for the night?”
  2. Ask if there’s a dress code. Had I known there was going to be a networking session before the speaker went on, I would have dressed better. There’s nothing more distracting than knowing you’re under dressed for a networking event.
  3. Go with business cards. I have business cards for work as well as personal business cards, none of which were on my person. Had I known what was going to precede the speaking event, I would have brought a set of business cards. There is nothing worse than someone handing you his/her business card and having to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring my cards with me.”
  4. Bring a buddy. Go to the event with someone or arrange to meet a person or two there. Perhaps there’s a person or two you’re interested in meeting for the first time. Reach out to see if they’er going. It’s assuring to know there will be someone you can speak with after you’ve made an initial connection.
  5. Make a soft introduction to the speaker. For introverts the soft introduction, via e-mail or LinkedIn, is a great way to introduce themselves to someone at an event. If possible, contact the person who’ll be speaking at the event. This takes some of the pressure off of approaching the person for the first time.
  6. You don’t have to stay until the end. It’s not like when you closed the bar during your college days. Oh, you didn’t do that? In any case, don’t feel like you have to stay to the end. There have been many times when I had such a great time at a networking event that I ended up staying the whole time. “Is it really time to go?”
  7. Mentally prepare for the event. Related to number 1, introverts have to develop a “Just do it” attitude. We need to prep ourselves to get outside our comfort zone, which includes preparing for small talk, not relying on seeing a room full of familiar faces. Preparing for a networking event might begin hours before the event, or, for some, days beforehand.

The evening turned out to be great fun for me. I spoke to people who were no more prepared than me and others who were there to work the room. When I re-entered at the beginning of the event, I knew there was no turning back; and I’m glad I didn’t. One thing I wish I had done that evening was stay for the food, which looked awesome.

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“Hey, listen up” revisited. 4 thoughts on listening

I wrote this blog more than a year ago, but I continue to encounter people who haven’t mastered the art of listening. These people would prefer to talk over actively listening. The short anecdote below illustrates what I mean.

I recall a time when my father was shopping for a car. In his mind he had a series of questions for the eager salesperson—who had been trained to go over all the bells and whistles with the potential buyer—and wanted clear, concise answers.

The salesperson proceeded to introduce himself and launch into a monologue on all the interior features of the car, before my father even had a chance to ask about the performance of the car—the engine’s power and mileage. My father could have cared less for the seat warmer, radio controls on the steering wheel, and climate control.

Needless to say the sales person didn’t have a chance to get my father to take a test drive and certainly didn’t get good ole’ Dad into the buyer’s chair. The sale was lost before it began, and it’s too bad because my father was a willing buyer at that moment. The sales person had failed at the art of listening.

The art of listening is never as imperative as it is when you’re at a networking event. Those who attend these meetings know that one of the main goals is to show your willingness to listen and share advice and information. Here you must not only acknowledge the person with whom you’re speaking by maintaining eye contact, smiling, holding a firm posture, etc.; you must also process the information for follow-up conversations, if appropriate. Thus, active listening is an essential component of networking.

The appearance of listening is not only important; actually hearing what the person is saying is paramount. One of the tricks to help you remember what someone says is to jot down notes on the back of the person’s business card, much like taking handwritten notes at an interview. But mainly you must enter a conversation with complete willingness to listen, resisting the urge to speak until it’s your turn. Many people are formulating what they’re going to say and, therefore, are not actively listening to the person with whom they’re speaking.

The art of listening is just as important when you’re engaged in superficial networking. Let me give you an example of a recent interaction I had with a basketball dad who will be out of work in a week’s time. He will be looking for a new position in engineering in the defense industry. Even though I was there to watch my son play ball, I was listening to the man’s current situation, what type of company he’d like to work for next, what his skills and strengths are, etc. I now have my antennae up and will certainly keep my ears to the pavement for him. Some believe that more jobs are gained through superficial networking than organized networking.

Who make better listeners, introverts or extraverts? Extraverts are better verbal communicators and feel more comfortable “working a room,” whereas introverts prefer the intense one-on-one conversations with a few people. Hence, introverts will give you that undivided attention and process more of what you say. This is the theory, at least.

I’m an introvert and wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a great listener unless what the other person has to say is of great interest to me. I work with extraverts who are great listeners, though they tend to talk a lot. So this theory is a generalization at best, in my mind.

Listen and follow up. Master networker Joe Sweeney, Networking is a Contact Sport; harps on the importance of follow-up. To keep people in your network, whether in business or in the job hunt, you must follow up with the people you meet. Without listening intently to what they say and jotting down notes on the back of their business cards, this can be difficult when it comes to recalling a conversation you had four days ago. How uncomfortable would it be to call someone you met at an event and say, “Hi, Bob, I’m just calling to follow up on our brief chat the other night, but I can’t remember what we spoke about”? It would be very uncomfortable.

Sweeney writes, “Be a great listener and ask open-ended questions. Remember, God gave you two ears and one mouth, so use them in proportion.” I think this sums up the importance of listening when it comes to networking.

I’ll reveal my little secret. I sold cars as a young adult. I was terrible at it for various reasons, but one thing I knew how to do was wait for the customer to tell me what he was looking for in a car. I resisted the urge to launch into the benefits of the Subarus I sold. For this reason, I never had someone walk away before a test drive. It was during the test drive that I lost many of my sales. We all have to realize that listening is key in effective communications, whether we’re selling cars or networking.

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5 ways more business advice sounds like job search advice

I love reading articles on how to succeed in business because they speak to how to succeed at the job search. I can relate almost everything to the job search, but business is by far the easiest way for me to see a connection, as evident by an article written by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin group.

1.Listen more than you talk. “ Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places, so you should always keep your ears open for some shrewd advice,” says the author. This point the author makes is sage advice when, as examples, you’re networking or at an informational meeting.

People like to be heard, not talked at, so make fellow networkers feel appreciated. You’ll get your turn to talk if the relationship is worth nurturing. If you’re granted an informational meeting (I prefer this term over “informational interview), you’re there to gather information, not dominate the discussion.

2. Keep it simple. “Maintain a focus upon innovation, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” An example of this is jobseekers who are constantly thinking of the next best thing for a résumé, or have 20 people review it. (Twenty people will result in 20 different answers.)

Often it’s not your résumé that needs constant revisions; it’s the way you distribute it. Take heed of the advice job search experts, recruiters, and employers give; find the avenues by which to send your accomplishment-based and keyword-rich résumé. These can be found through networking.

3. Take pride in your work. The jobseekers who succeed at getting a job in quick fashion are those who show pride in their work. By work, I mean the effort and focus you put into developing a support system, namely your network; the pride you display by dressing the part whenever you’re in public; the professionalism you demonstrate at interviews; and the follow-up after your interviews.

4. Have fun, success will follow. I wouldn’t blame you if you felt like popping me one in the mouth. Looking for work isn’t fun—I know, having been there—but as the author said, “A smile and a joke can go a long way, so be quick to see the lighter side of life.” Your supporters and employers will respond better to positivity than a display of despair and bitterness.

I’m often impressed by the jobseekers I see who don’t give into their inner fear and frustration, but rather smile whenever they attend my workshops. This shows confidence that employers are seeking in their candidates, even in my workshops but especially at an interview.

5. Rip it up and start again. “Don’t allow yourself to get disheartened by a setback or two, instead dust yourself off and work out what went wrong.” This is perhaps the best advice we can take away from this article.

Often we’ll experience letdown during the job search, and it’s human to hope that our first interview will result in a job. But the fact remains that you’ll have as many as 7 opportunities before getting a job offer.

I’m constantly impressed by jobseekers who suffer a long unemployment before landing a job. This is a testament to their perseverance. No matter how sick and tired you are of hearing, “Don’t give up,” keep in mind that giving up will not result in a rewarding job.

The sooner you think of yourself as a small business owner who has to market and sell your product, the sooner you’ll land your next job. I would add one more point to Richard Branson’s article….Work hard at what you want. You’ve worked hard while employed, so working hard at your job search should follow naturally. This time you’re your own boss, though.

9 reasons why LinkedIn is the most professional club on the Internet.

Serious-about-networkingOf the major social media sites, LinkedIn does the best job of creating an atmosphere of professional online interaction and…preventing its members from making idiots of themselves.

Why will LinkedIn NOT allow you to cross the line from professionalism to hooliganism? Let’s just say it’s an understanding we LinkedIn members have and will always have.

Sure there are some slip-ups here and there, but very few compared to the faux pas that occur on, say, Facebook or Twitter (see 30 Ways to Lose a Job on Twitter). Why? Perhaps it has to do with the members who use LinkedIn…average age is around 43 with high salary earnings in the hundred thousands.

Developed in 2003, LinkedIn was used as a business networking application on which businesses could network to develop leads and increase business opportunities. Unfortunately unemployment became such a large business and caused increasingly more jobseekers to migrated to LinkedIn. Fortunately LinkedIn is the best networking application for jobseekers.

Here are what I consider to be LinkedIn’s greatest assets and what keeps it business as usual.

  1. Recruiter, Hiring Manager, HR approved. According to Jobvite.com, 89% of employers regularly use LinkedIn to cull talent, while only 26% use Facebook, 16% employ Twitter, and a mere 3% turn to blogs.
  2. Have you noticed LinkedIns changesIt’s sleek and simplified but many of its applications have disappeared. Disconcerting at first, many members with whom I’ve communicated say the changes make sense. (Still I miss Answers and Reading List.) But sometimes less is more.
  3. Tweeting on LinkedIn is discouraged. You can link to Twitter and send updates as tweets but not the other way around. There was a time when your tweets would show up as updates, but LinkedIn users were tired of hearing about where you’ll be eating in Manhattan and when you’re picking up your daughter at summer camp.
  4.  Members hang with their own. I’m on Twitter and some surfer dude is following me, which is cool; but I’m more selective when it comes to my contacts. This holds true for most LinkedIn members. Kitty Kat asked me to join her network on LinkedIn, but I simply ignored her (Ignore is the proper way to decline an invite.)
  5. LinkedIn users are following suit. Photos were once considered taboo, particularly with the older jobseekers, but now almost everyone is donning a photo. It’s a rare occasion when a LinkedIn member does NOT have a photo. As a rule, I will not accept an invite from someone who doesn’t have a photo; and I certainly won’t invite a photo-less LinkedIn member. Too creepy.
  6. Like Pepsi, we don’t mind being #2. Facebook is the supreme ruler in terms of membership, but look at all the crap that surrounds the social media mega superstar. When was the last time you heard of some poor kid being cyber bullied on LinkedIn? Never. Let Facebook have their 800 million members; we’re happy with 135 million serious networkers.
  7. My mom doesn’t have an account. Sorry, Mom, but you’re retired and living by a lake enjoying the good life. LinkedIn is for people who have a reason for being on it.
  8. All the major sports teams see no use for LinkedIn. My beloved Patriots don’t ask their fans to follow them on LinkedIn, nor do entertainment entities and beer companies. Facebook and Twitter share that market, and they can have it.
  9. LinkedIn isn’t sexyBusiness Insider is unkind when it states: How Linkedin’s Lousy Sex Appeal Could End Up Killing It. I know it’s not sexy, far from it, but that’s what makes it professional; so Business Insider phases me the least. I’m looking for substance over eye candy, as most serious networkers in the search for business or a job.

These are 9 reasons why LinkedIn is the most professional club on the Internet. For these reasons, LinkedIn is the best way for me to spend an average of two hours a day on the Internet…365 days a year. Go to LinkedIn’s blogsite for more information about LinkedIn. I’m sure you’ll be totally impressed with how professional-minded and…bland LinkedIn is.

A story of paying it forward

salvation armyRecently I stood in the cold, relentless air in front of Market Basket in Lowell ringing bells for the Salvation Army. It was a great feeling seeing customers, who probably didn’t have a lot of money to spend, stuffing a dollar or whatever change they could manage into the slot atop the red bucket.

All the while my feet and fingers were freezing, but that didn’t matter because the spirit of Christmas was in the air. I started ringing the bells at 9:00 am and business didn’t start picking up until 10:00 am. I didn’t start feeling my feet until 11:00 am, the end of my shift.

I have one person to thank for giving me the opportunity to ring the bells for the Salvation Army, a person who personifies “paying it forward,” Kevin Willett.

I talk about the concept “paying it forward” in a career networking workshop and there seems to be some confusion among the crowd, so to simplify the concept I tell my attendees that the act of helping others creates good Karma. Further I tell them they should not expect the person you help to immediately repay the favor, because another person will step forward to help you. In fact, you may never receive reciprocation from the person you assisted.

Kevin who is the founder of Friends of Kevin, a business networking group, embraces the term “paying it forward” every Christmas season when he gathers his army of friends to ring the bells. When I asked him why he volunteers endless hours to organize this event and ring the bells himself, he told me he was once a recipient of the Salvation Army’s aid to people in need.

Kevin’s generosity extends beyond ringing the bells. His networking group not only helps businesses network, a few jobseekers are allowed to attend the meetings and deliver their elevator speeches. The goal is to expose jobseekers to business people who might have jobs to offer or know of companies that do. Kevin is a connector in the truest sense—he connects people to charities, and he connects business people to jobseekers.

Kevin spoke last year at our urban career center to a sold-out group of jobseekers eager to learn how to network. His presentation was a hit, and he made it clear that networking is a two-way street; you help someone and get help in return.

There are no hard statistics on how successful paying it forward is. Smart jobseekers simply understand that it makes common sense. It makes common sense because as you’re helping someone, another person is in the process of helping you. I’m convinced that the jobseekers who believe in paying it forward will receive the help they need. How do I know? Just ask Kevin Willett.