I am just back from a conference where I spent a day with 600 HR people who belong to the Illinois State Council of SHRM.
I stood on stage with Kris Dunn and we talked about brand personae and archetypes. Then we hosted a little networking reception for no other reason other than the fact that I wanted to attend a party with some vegetarian options and a fruity beverage that I would enjoy.
Mission accomplished. The event was awesome.
I felt compelled to walk around to each table and introduce myself. It was like a wedding. I thanked my guests for attending the conference. I encouraged the attendees to eat and drink. And I connected with so many new people.
It was fun and easy, but I am not always very good at making small talk. I find it easier to speak to 600 people than to six people. But I knew it was important to get out of my comfort zone and say hello to the conference attendees.
I am glad I did it, too, because I was reminded that there are four kinds of people at networking events.
- Introverts who know how to engage.
- Introverts who won’t engage.
- Introverts who will engage but it is painful for them.
The third and fourth group are tough to manage if you are an extrovert because it might seem like those introverts are straight-up assholes. I have also heard that extremely shy people — especially women — can seem like mean girls. They appear to be very judgmental. And I can certainly empathize with that perspective. It is very frustrating to look someone in the face who clearly wants to be somewhere else.
(“Am I keeping you? You look like you’d rather die than talk to me.”)
And if you are an introvert who has been trained to engage, you may wonder why other introverts aren’t making a freakin’ effort.
(“If I can do it, why can’t they do it?”)
But I think it is important to remember that extreme introverts are on guard — even when they are having fun. They aren’t really judging you or throwing shade at you. They are just bad at making eye contact.
Being “social” can be tough for all of us. It shouldn’t be so hard to make new professional connections in this world, but if you are over the age of 30, it is really hard to make new friends. That’s too bad because hanging out with other like-minded adults keeps us sharp and focused.
So if you are an extrovert or an introvert who can fake it, it is important to offer kindness to the introverts in your life. Buddy up. Grab an introvert by the arm. Don’t let them out of your sight. Don’t let them sit off by themselves or stare at a mobile phone all night long.
And whatever you do, don’t let them duck out of the party early!