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Help! I'm an Introvert!

By enhancing strengths and minimizing weaknesses, anyone can be a good networker.

My wife and I were having a relaxing dinner one night recently. We were sitting around the kitchen table and we were talking when I made some off handed comment about being an extrovert (it fit into the context of the conversation). She looked over at me and said, "Uh honey, I hate to break it to you, but you're an introvert." I smiled and said, "Yeah sure, I'm an introvert (insert laugh track here)."

She looked at me quite earnestly and said, "No, really you're an introvert." I protested strongly. I said, "Come on, I'm a public speaker and founder of the world's largest networking organization--I'm not an introvert! I can't be. I mean, you're joking, right?" She absolutely insisted that I was an introvert and proceeded to share with me all the ways that I have introverted tendencies. Well, I have to admit I was taken back by this. All the examples she gave were true, but I still couldn't believe that I was an introvert. On the other hand, we have been married for 20 years, there's a chance that she might actually know me pretty well.

So off I went the next day to do some research. I did an internet search and found a test that tells you whether you're an introvert or extrovert. Was I in for a shock: The test said that I was a "situational extrovert." It explained that I was something of a loner that was reserved around strangers but very outgoing in the right context. It was at that moment that I said, "Oh my God! I'm an introvert!?"

In the haze of my surprise, some very important things came into clarity for me. It struck me why I started the BNI networking organization more than two decades ago. I was naturally uncomfortable meeting new people. BNI created a "system" that enabled me to meet people in an organized, structured networking environment that did not require that I actually "talk to strangers."

When I visit regions of BNI, I ask my director to have someone walk me around and introduce me to visitors and members so that I can connect with as many people as possible. But in reality, it's because I'm uncomfortable walking around introducing myself alone.

I realized that the whole notion of "acting like the host, not the guest" and volunteering to be the Ambassador at a Chamber event or the Visitor Host at a BNI group were all the ways that I used to move more comfortably at networking events, not just the ways that I recommended for those other poor introverts out there to network.

Now more than ever, I truly believe that whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you can be good at networking. Both have inherent strengths and weaknesses. By finding ways to enhance strengths and minimize weaknesses, anyone can be a great networker.

How about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Whichever one you are, how do you use this trait in your networking?

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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