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The Introverted Network Builder: An Offering to John Hagel

Buried in a blog post on the measuring your real net worth, John Hagel recently opened this invitation,

I would welcome advice and insight on how introverts (and others) can be more intentional about cultivating the kinds of personal networks that I’ve described above.

So, Mr. Hagel, and all you introverts who might share his question and challenge, here is what I have learned in my years studying and practicing networking as an introvert.

Let’s begin by admitting that for introverts, the practice of extending oneself and seeking connection with others is not naturally energizing, in fact, it can be quite draining. Carl Jung, the popularizer of the ideas of introversion and extroversion, thought of these personality types described people who were more focused on their inner lives versus those who were more focused on the outer world. In our current popular definitions, we think of them more as shy, quiet types versus those who are talkative and loud. Everyone is on a continuum between introversion and extroversion, but those who experience themselves as introverts find the socializing they must do draining of their energy while extroverts find themselves energized after a lot of social interaction and might be drained by being alone and quiet. I am wondering if these differences are somehow linked to the development (by nature or nurture) of our dopamine and cortisol feedback loops. More on that later.

I was extremely shy as a teen, so as a young adult, I created circumstances for myself that forced me to overcome my introversion. I signed up to become a realtor and travelled the world alone. I eventually became a sales leader and only many years later did I learn that Jung predicted my path by saying that my introverted personality type could be a novelist, a philosopher or a sales leader, but that the latter would require huge amounts of energy to sustain (it did).

In my decade plus as a sales leader, I had to develop a way of teaching sales that worked for me, so I collected a variety of frameworks and practices that worked well for me and for many others.

1. Fit the world to your inner realities – most introverts are best one on one rather than in large social gatherings. So, form parties or even conventions into a series of intentional one on one meeting experiences that work for you. Find a quiet corner and a warm beverage and start following what I call the CLEAR steps:

2. Focus only on what you can control – your own curiosity about the other person. Connect and Learn are the first two steps in the CLEAR process. In fact, the best way to connect with someone new is forget about yourself and be curious about them and their work, where they came from, etc. Listen closely to what they are revealing about themselves, then ask follow up questions that take you gently deeper into what they’ve already entrusted you with.

3. Once you have Connected and Learned, it’s time to start Earning trust as the next step in the CLEAR process.

A. Each piece of information shared with you is a gift and is subject to the Norm of Reciprocity. As a person shares, an imbalance in sharing begins to build, so, at various points along the way you can either meet their sharing with your own, similarly risky sharing, or if the person is seemingly unsure about sharing with you, you can proactively share to see if they will reciprocate the openness you’ve offered. The Norm of Reciprocity is a powerful tool once you’ve experimented with the nuances of its use.

B. Promises made and kept are the key to earning deep trust through relevant, unique, visible (RUV) action. As we learn about a person, we can intentionally list relevant, unique promises we can make and keep. These might be as simple as making an introduction or sending a link to an article. If you can create some delay in the completion of this task, the opportunity to build trust and visibility is increased. Remembering to send a link or introduction 24 hours later gives you both the opportunity to prove your care and reliability, and to become visible or active in their consciousness another time, greatly increasing the likelihood of later recall.

4. Once you have earned trust, it’s time to Astonish your new connection with your thoughtfulness and proactivity.

A. In some conversations, your partner might say things to open onto much deeper and wider veins of conversation and connection. We can think of these as mine shaft moments. These are the sentences when their facial expression changes, they look down, or use the vague term where one with a lot more specificity (and risk) might have been more natural. These are often unconscious invitations to show your sensitivity and trustworthiness. Do not leave these opportunities unaddressed, ask the obvious what and how questions around what they’ve just said (why questions can often be overly mental or challenging in these moments). Your conversation partner will often be astonished that you’ve learned so much about them, been so perceptive, etc. when all you are doing is listening and asking simple questions with care and curiosity.

B. Another easy way to astonish new connections is to think of them well after your initial conversation. If you have listed some relevant, unique things you might offer them during your conversation, you can later send a related item along with a note saying that you were thinking of them. This care and relevance across time is astonishing to most people in today’s fast-paced, often transactional culture.

5. To really build your network quickly, soon after astonishing your new connection, request a personal introduction to two of their most fascinating (to you) connections. This will begin the exponential growth of your network net worth.

6. To truly cement your connection and take it to another level of value for everyone involved, look for a way to collaborate on a project. Maybe a guest blog post, a small collaborative project, or another way to move from connection to collaborative action.

To really set this all on rails, a busy introvert might create a list of people (or types of people) and set a couple of phone or coffee meetings per week with the express purpose of simply connecting and learning about each other.

Even if all this works, we still face a huge obstacle: our network building depends on a change of habit. To work these network building practices into our daily lives may require a reconfiguration of our dopamine loops. To that end, I have developed a simple experience sampling and analysis tool (download the pdf here).

Recently, I have been experimenting with my own dopamine and cortisol experiences and am looking to establish new dopamine reward loops that build my own network net worth. In fact, this blog post is a product of my realization that I want to build my dopamine reward loops around writing and collaborating with thought leaders (like you, John Hagel) who are designing what’s next in our business culture.

If any of this has been interesting or valuable to you, dear reader, I’d love to meet you (find a time to talk here) and add value to both of our networks at once.


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