Taking the Blah, Blah, Blah Out of Networking (an Introvert’s Guide), with Karen Wickre

13 Nov Taking the Blah, Blah, Blah Out of Networking (an Introvert’s Guide), with Karen Wickre

INTRODUCTION:

My DREAM THINK DO guest this week is Karen Wickre. Karen has been in leadership of a few companies you may have heard of. She was the Editorial Director of Twitter. Before that, she was with Google. She’s a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley and has been an advisor to multiple startups as well. She’s a lifelong information seeker and serves on the boards of organizations like The International Center For Journalists, The News Literacy Project, and The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

She’s a proud introvert.  And as a result, she felt compelled to write a brand spanking new book called Taking The Work Out of Networking. It’s a guide for anyone who wants to trade in the much-loathed and often abused common practices of networking and replace them with the valuable habits that can lead to better relationships, stronger connections, and kick butt networks. Karen has captured some innovative new ways for anyone, introverted or not, to embrace their true nature and create enduring, reliable, and critical connections.

RESOURCE:

  • Book Taking the Work out of Networking (Click here)

INTERVIEW:

Karen, welcome to DREAM THINK DO.

Thank you so much, Mitch. I’m glad to be here.

So… I get a sense that this book is one that you wrote that you wish you would have had at the beginning of your career.

I think that’s right. In fact, I kind of wrote it because I thought, “Why don’t I just put down all the stuff I know since people are always asking me for introductions and career advice.” I don’t even have to be the only one who does this. Other people can do this, too.

Yeah, it’s like you wrote the book to save yourself some time, like, “Just read the book. It’s all in there.” I love it.

And it was an interesting exercise. How do you explain this stuff? So I tried to unpack it. You know, some method to the madness.

I love it. So you write from introvert’s perspective. I am also an introvert who’s learned to do extroverted things, but when it comes to reenergizing, taking care of my inner introvert, there’s a lot of alone time, lot of quiet time that’s needed. Would you say that you have always kind of known you were introverted, understood that about you or is that something that’s more of a newer revelation to you?

HELPING INTROVERTS STAY ENERGIZED

I think it’s not super new to me now, but I think as a kid I thought of myself as shy and my friends would say, “Are you kidding me? You’re not shy.” Because I always had information, I always knew what was going on. In high school kids would say, “What’s happening on Friday night?” And I would know because I was friends with all the kids. So I was like the information source.

That was an early signal about this kind of thing, but I didn’t want to be the center of attention, and I did hang back. I liked to be in the background. So that’s always been true. Anyway, it took me a little while to divide off the stereotype of shy from what’s an introvert. An introvert, as you just suggested, is someone who recharges and get their energy from alone time and quiet time as opposed the other end of the spectrum, the extrovert, give me another party.

Yeah. Exactly. I’m going to get my 10 closest friends together and we’re going to re-energize, which, to me, is not energizing.

Yeah. Enough already. Right. That’s really the young definition from the 20s that a lot has been built on. Now I’ve read a lot about this, thanks in part to Susan Cain, whose 2012 book Quiet really paved the way. We’re all on a spectrum. It’s not a sort of you’re either this or that. Now I’ve done enough reading to tell you that you are probably like me, a social introvert, which is a different flavor, but along the spectrum.

Exactly right. I love it. I do some speaking, especially on college campuses. Nothing against extroverts, but I actually think introverts tend to be better networkers, tend to be better connectors just for that point that you mentioned. We don’t want the limelight, we don’t want the spotlight put on us so we’re much more prone to ask some questions, to actually engage some in to get them talking and be a potential connector. All of that as opposed to saying, “I want the limelight. Everybody look at me.”

I do think that if introverts understand the strengths as opposed to weaknesses, they can actually use these strengths. That’s why I love the title of the book. Again, it is called Taking The Work Out of Networking. All right. Let’s talk about it. Let’s dive into the book itself. What would just say as you thought back through, what’s one of those strategies that maybe most people wouldn’t necessarily think of when they think of typical networking?

INTROVERTS HAVE SUPERPOWERS

Well, you touched on it a minute ago and it’s exactly right. I call them, there are three superpowers, I say, in the book, that introverts have. And guess what, they are listening, skills, observational skills, and curiosity. And these, to me, are real strengths when it comes to connecting with other people. As a kid, I made a game out of seeing how much other people would tell me before I had to reveal anything about myself.

Nice. Well, that was a good game. I like that game.

It was a way for me to decide what I like about you and if I can trust you before I’m going to give you anything. Now, you have to do a little give and take, people not revealing anything to anybody, that doesn’t end up well.

But I would start with questions literally. So that to me is a real power that introverts have. We don’t want to start the conversation with us. So you tell me about you and if it’s a career related thing, it’s about tell me what do you like about this company and what do you like about your job and how did you get there and you’re drawing people out and that’s flattering and people want to answer that and give stuff up unless they’re too much like us.

Exactly. They turn around and ask you the question just as fast.

But I find that I can quickly read someone and say, “You know what, I’m not gonna hold back. Then I’m gonna start exchanging here.” It’s a good way to start because then you can kind of set the comfort level and what you want to find out, what you need to find out from somebody because they’ve started this process, they’ve started talking to you first.

Yeah. Absolutely. I think opening it up and actually being sincerely interested. You see some people being robotic, like, “Oh, good. I’ve got my checklist of questions now. I’m going to start asking.” It’s like, no, no, no, no. If you’re engaged, you’re really curious, people sense that- and they will open up. People tell me stuff, they’re even shocked that they’re telling me, but you made it feel safe. You’re making them comfortable.

That’s right.

That’s the ultimate compliment when somebody shares that with you. I’ve kind of loved the hidden strategy you’ve just talked about too because I think probably on that spectrum of introverts to extroverts. I love the game you mentioned.” I mean, such a simple thing, but it’s like, “I wonder how many questions I can ask before they start asking me questions.”

HOW INTROVERTS CAN SURVIVE and THRIVE AT A PARTY

That’s right. Another sort of tactic in that same vein is, don’t think about the room of 300 or even the room of 10. Connect one-to-one with somebody. That becomes your way in. I have a little saying in the book that I repeat a few times, it’s just coffee. I’m all about having the one-to-one, having the coffee date, the whatever it is, the chat, the phone call, doesn’t have to be in person. But that’s how you can start to make a connection and feel like, “Oh, I belong here too and it’s gonna be okay.”

I love that. To me, God’s great sense of humor is I’m an introvert and my day job is being in rooms of 300 to 500 strangers. Like, “Okay, I get it.” But there is so much power in finding those one-on-one or making those one-on-one-opportunities. I know that was one of the things in the book of the company parties are fine, company parties are great, but not always the best place to network and sometimes you can even avoid them. I mean I know you talk more about that strategy of finding better ways to do it.

Yeah. Especially, I mean, Google obviously got to be so big in the time that I was there and now it’s even bigger. And I quickly learned it’s not that the holiday party wasn’t fun up to a point, but when it got to be so big and it’s everybody plus one, you’re lucky to find anybody you’ve ever met in that kind of thing.

Sometimes I would skip, but other times it would just be, make a plan with the people you know, the smaller group and have a few cohorts to go through it with.

Yeah. It’s not good. So I actually found several other people who wrote a blog post about this kind of thing too, which was essentially, “Make the circuit once or twice. Make sure you’re seen by the people you need to be seen by and then get out of there.” That’s job done.

Exactly. It’s so, so true. Our two boys are teenagers and we’ve equipped them with this strategy, because they’re both introverts as well. So you go to a social event. Yeah. I said, “You get something in your hand,” they’re teenagers so it’s a Pepsi or a Coke or whatever, “You get something in your hand so you feel confident, you’re moving around.” And you’re exactly right. You get those points, you know the people that you need to see, whether it’s teachers or family members, and you can gradually just head out because nobody is the going to notice after that. But you got your attendance points.

So I love that. I love that. But I also, what I see you talk about is taking care of the inner introvert. It’s being able to check off of the social things that are expected and needed. But at the same time you’re not saying, don’t connect with people. You’re saying, “Do connect with people, but do it on a more one-on-one basis.”

Yeah.

So let me ask this, for you, as far as reaching out. Let’s just say somebody is on your radar, you’d like to meet with them, get to know them a little better, all on a professional level, that kind of thing because if we are talking romantically that’s a whole other set of skills, right?

We don’t have time for that here.

That’s right. That’s your second book.

What are some of the things that you think are most important when you’re reaching out to that person you don’t know to kind of have more than just bump into somebody in the hallway kind of conversation, a more intentional conversation, whether that’s coffee or whatever? What are some of the key components you think in initially reaching out?

KEYS FOR AN EFFECTIVE INTRODUCTION

Well, first let’s say an introduction, a common person is great so that you can get the introduction from somebody that you know. And there are times I’ll do that. I know a lot of people, but I still may say to somebody, “Can you introduce me to that person by email.” And if I’m asked that, I will say, “Yes, I can. I’m going to write to them first, explain the context of why I’d like to make the connection and why they might be interested and only when they say yes, then I’ll do it.”

I love that. Kind of a double opt-in introduction.

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. So that’s if you do know someone. If you don’t, let’s say the standard LinkedIn sort of message, put a message there. Don’t just do the LinkedIn default message.

Mention a reason you’d like to connect. Like you want to know more about their company or the school program they were in or the field they were in or you kind of know somebody in common or you’ve read things from them. Whatever it is, put something that’s a little flattering, but also some context. Like, “I’d love to follow up with you about that company or about that job at your convenience.” So you can’t do any like tomorrow at 9:00 AM.

I love those. Yeah. I’m available tomorrow at 10:00. Can I call you directly?

Yeah. No. No is the answer to that. You have to be specific with the person you don’t know as to what you’re hoping to get. And also no demands. It has to be general. At your convenience. Could be the phone. Could be coffee. Really whatever you say, I’ll do, I’ll be there, I’ll make it happen. So that’s how I would go about it. Just context is the thing, what’s the reason?

Yeah, absolutely. And I like that, what you’re saying, you’re honoring them by if you can really throw out an authentic compliment. To say, “Hey, I love this article that you wrote.” Or, “I saw you give this presentation.” Or, “I appreciated what you said in that meeting,” that kind of thing.

Give a little compliment to honor them, but then also honor them by not making demands. I’m sure most DREAM THINK DO-ers would just go, “Oh, people don’t do that, do they?” But, oh they do.

Oh yeah, they do.

I love it. Okay. So let’s say you reach out and Maggie says, “Yes, we can now be connected.” And maybe even says yes to having coffee. In an initial meeting with someone, what are some of your favorite go-to questions, whether it be in a networking situation or more in an in-depth, hey, we’re sitting down at Starbucks?

Well, first I would go do a little more research. Even more than maybe I had done to get the introduction. I would actually sit down and read some of the things or read their bio or whatever there is so that you can come up with some questions that are related to whatever you want. I think that’s great, to say, “I really did my homework here and I don’t want to take up more of your time, but this is what I’d like to know.”

I so agree. You’ll appreciate this Karen, I do this something called office hours on Friday mornings and I reserve a couple of times slots and people can ask to talk with me and I travel enough that I can’t do a lot of one-on-one coffee with people, but I can do half-hour phone calls. And it’s so interesting because some people will wait a month, sometimes two months to do one of those calls and we’ll get on and I’ll say, “All right, great. It’s so good to talk, what do you want to talk about?” And they haven’t thought through questions and things.

But the person who’s like, “Okay, well, I have 15 questions and I will only get through as many as you have time for.” And in some cases, if I have it, I find myself giving them an extra half hour, going longer just because they’ve been so intentional and so honoring. I love that. People, I think sometimes wonder, “Will I look like a stalker? Will I look weird if I come with this list?” There are ways to be weird in any way, shape or form. If you do it right it’s really honoring.

No, that’s right. It’s showing they’ve been paying attention and it’s relevant.

Yeah. Exactly.

It’s no different than a journalist showing up with the right questions, who, what, where, when and why and how. It’s the same idea. I’m paying attention to you and therefore, I’m coming with relevant things for you.

Exactly. Exactly. It’s funny because when somebody’s got that much intentionality, I think it winds up being a gift for the person that’s also being asked the questions. That’s like they’re honoring that person and that’s a gift. I mean, yes, it does take some energy to get those responses, but at the same time, it’s a great gift.

Here’s a question I love to ask. I always find with getting to talk with so many different authors as they write a book on a subject they’re passionate about, there are usually some strategies that the author puts out there that they’re really good at naturally. It’s so easy to write that, it feels good when they write that. They know they, I’m good in this area. But there’s usually at least one strategy where if they inventory themselves they’re like, “I have to put it in the book, but that one still doesn’t come naturally to me.” Or, “It’s important, but that’s not my thing.” I need that myself.

I know I’ve got a couple of different books and I know there are strategies that, again, come naturally and somewhere it’s like, “I’m including them because it’s a work in progress for me still.” So what would you say, what’s one of those strategies for you that’s like maybe you know you need, but it’s still one that you’ve got to really be intentional about versus it just coming naturally for you?

That is a very good question. I would say it’s sort of one of degrees. It is true that I’m a good writer so I could reach out to anybody by email and say here’s why and how and what. I’m not as good as doing it in a person at a party. I wouldn’t have the presence of mind to do it in that moment in the same way where I could organize my thoughts. So I think that’s the thing that I would like to work on so that I had that kind of consciousness in the moment. On the screen, I’m really good.

 

HOW INTROVERTS CAN PLAY TO THEIR STRENGTHS

You are good. Hello. You’re a genius for crying out loud. I do think that’s great and I appreciate you being transparent. This is the era for the introvert because, like yourself, you’ve been able to create a career where I’m sure a lot of it has been still interpersonal, but there are so many things you’ve been able to do as a writer as an introvert. You can unleash on the world and not have to interact with a whole lot of people at the same time, like physically, in the same place. So it’s like this is the era. I think for me too, it’s that same thing of like interact online or interact over email or writing all day long.

Right. We’ve never had more touch points for people to be able to connect. I do say a lot of what I do is like from beyond the screen or behind the screen. Because that is how I’m used to it, but that’s also where people are used to sharing things, people use private direct messages and text and chat and stuff. So it’s never been a better time that way. But one point I want to break up that I make in the book is the fact is we all have to do more connecting with more people over more of our lives now. That’s the other reality.

Nobody has the same job for 30 or 40 years and therefore they don’t need the network. We all change jobs. We’re all going to work longer. There are more and more people who are independent or put together a bunch of gigs. So the need to constantly meet and connect with people and have them to call on in your network, in your brain trust, I sometimes say, that’s the need that’s not going away. It’s only growing.

I think that is so true. My grandpa literally came back from World War II and he got his dream job. He started working for John Deere and worked there basically till he retired and he was good to go and did an incredible job at it, just a lot of success with doing that. And fantastic, but such a different era where so many folks, either because industries change or because organizations change, it’s so rare anymore. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a short attention span. I love lots of variety. Yeah. It’s networking and connecting and relationships. It’s one of those if you wait until you need them to develop them, then you missed the boat.

Yeah. Exactly.

Whereas you see these people that are intentionally cultivating networks, not because they’re looking for a job in that moment or not necessarily because they’re looking for customers in that moment, but because they’re cultivating relationships, they’re learning from others. I think, to your point earlier, they’re curious, they’re allowing themselves to be curious and putting themselves out there.

That’s right.

That’s a goldmine. That takes a while to really dig out, but that’s a goldmine.

Yeah. And we need it. I was really struck by this recently. I was introduced to a woman in a professional role. She’d been in the same place for about 10 years and her friend had recommended she talk to me because she said, “I really want to make a change. I’m looking for a new job and because I’ve had my job so long, I let my network go.” And she said, “Now I need to get out there again and meet some people.” And she has done, I have to say, a fantastic job of keeping in touch with me to let me know she’s applied for this, she’s met this contact, that led her to another one. So she is now building up her network.

Right. Exactly. I am so glad about the era that I was born into because I love indoor plumbing, I love air conditioning. In Iowa winters, I love our furnace. I love it. And there are issues with social media. But at the same time, this is a great time to live. One of the challenges is that things are always evolving, things are always changing so you need to have that network not just as a safety net, but as something that helps to keep you going, keeps you fired up, all of that.

In my parents’ generation, if you were out networking, oh, that means that he needs a job. Or, oh something must not be good at home because they’re networking, so there’s a problem. In this era, you are cultivating curiosity, you’re wanting to grow as a person, you’re wanting to engage with people. Now you can reach out and say, “No, it’s okay, I’m not looking for a job. No, I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m just legitimately curious about your industry, what you do.” Or, “I’m curious about you. Where did you grow up.”

Now we’re in an era where I think it’s still relatively rare, but you can go and cultivate new relationships, be curious with people and it doesn’t wave this big flag or light the red siren that, “Whoop, whoop, Tom’s in trouble.” All this kind of stuff. It’s just a good and healthy thing to do.

Yeah. Absolutely. That’s right.

I love it. Okay. So one last question for you. We could go for hours because I’m loving this and I know a lot of the introverts are listening in. I want to do that one last word. There is an introvert. I know we have all types of awesome DREAM THINK DO-ers. But let’s just say that one introvert, maybe they’re on the treadmill as they’re listening to this or maybe they’re at their desk or maybe they’re driving to work and but there is either that part of them that just feel shy or that part of them that feels afraid.

Dread.

Right. Dread. I know a lot of introverts who feel like all that small talk is a waste of energy. So what do you say? What’s one last piece of encouragement that you’d offer that introvert who is on the fence, knows they need to do something, but needs that last little gentle push?

I have a good one for you and especially for perhaps Iowans, but it applies everywhere.

Oh, I’m listening now.

This is not my quote, but I think this captures the scene and what I’m trying to say so well. The line is, “Networking is more like farming than it is like hunting.”

Oh, nice.

And this is from a guy named Ivan Misner, who created, oddly enough, a big business networking organization, which probably had a lot of big events with a lot of people. But nonetheless, what I love about that is, it is more like farming or gardening, where you’re planting, you’re nurturing the seeds, you’re watering, you’re weeding. Sometimes you have to weed. Sometimes you have to plow the ground.

But rather than hunting, which is just going in for the kill.

Right. And one time. One time.

Yeah, that’s right. So no hunting. It’s farming or gardening is the thing.

I really like that and it is true. And it’s a longer-term thing.

That’s right.

I know I’ve got some people in my network that I might only see them once a year, but we still check in. We’re still connected and all of that, where others I’m meeting with on a more regular basis, all of that. Because I do think that’s probably another aspect of what introverts wrestle with, is if I start a new relationship, is that going to become a burden? Do I have to then stay connected with them all the time? Some, you might want to, but others you can find different ways to check in and touch base and all of that. But I love farming versus hunting. That’s the right picture, especially for Iowa, but for anybody in the world.

Anybody anywhere. Yeah.

Awesome. So okay. The name of the book is Taking The Work Out of Networking. DREAM THINK DO-ers, go grab it. Karen Wickre, thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I look forward to having you back on DREAM THINK DO in the future.

Oh, thank you so much. It’s been a lot of fun.

All right, what did you dig? What did you love? You can probably tell I was pretty fired up. This is a subject I love and I just loved Karen’s heart and her approach and all of that. I think she’s hitting on it big time as far as just really nailing the strengths of the introvert and taking what some might perceive as weaknesses and turning them into strengths, superpowers. I love that. I love the double opt-in introduction. I think there’s something to not only creating or having new relationships and networking and growing your networks, but I think a key part of that is also taking care of your networks and just to kind of introduce anyone or just always just kind of fling your relationships around, not taking care of them. I think it’s a dangerous thing.

So I’m a big believer in reaching out. If somebody says, “Hey, would you introduce me to so and so?” It might be a friend of mine or it might be a former DREAM THINK DO guest. As Karen suggested, I will be open to it generally and say, “Well, I’m happy to reach out to them to see if they’re open to new connections.” And I’ll do that. And if they’re not, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person’s being snobbish or snooty or me asking doesn’t mean that I’m being snobbish or snooty. What you’re doing is you’re taking care of people.

I’ve had in a few cases where somebody is working on a big project or writing a book or maybe something was going on at home and they just didn’t have time. Oftentimes they’d say, “Hey, just reach back out to me in six months.” But what that’s doing is that’s taking care of your relationships. So to not just assume that it’s okay to make those introductions, but to check in first. Probably in most cases, they’ll say absolutely, but you’re taking care of your peeps and that’s what it’s about.

So it’s growing new relationships, but also taking care of the relationships you’ve got.

So I love that strategy. What did you dig?

I’d love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below and let me know what stood out for you!

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