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Network building is very relevant for every corporate executive.

“I am shy,” said Jazen

“Basically, I am an introvert. I don’t feel comfortable meeting new people. In fact, in my school and college days, I had very few friends. Mostly, I was invisible!”

“Now, you are telling me that just talent and hard work are not enough.” Jazen continued.

“And that, if I don’t network, I will be left behind, passed over and not achieve my aspirations.”

“What should I do?”

My heart went out to Jazen. I know exactly how he felt. I had met so many young professionals like him – sincere, hard-working, passionate – but aloof and shy and ‘invisible’.

How frustrating it was for them to see less-capable colleagues move ahead because they were more outgoing and confident and assertive!

“May I tell you a story, Jazen?” I asked.

“Yes, go ahead,” Jazen said, as he sat forward in his chair.

The Girl Nobody Knew

This story is about a young lady. Let us call her Rupa.

Throughout school and college, Rupa was the “shy girl.” The girl who nobody knew. Even her teachers, sometimes, would struggle to remember her name.

Rupa wondered why it was so hard for her to make friends and enjoy social events. But, as the years passed, she became so used to being known as “shy”, that she gradually accepted it as part of her identity.

In her final year of college, a counsellor administered a psychometric test to Rupa. As they went through the results of the test, she had a ‘Eureka’ moment. She was an Introvert!

Over the next few days,

Rupa read everything she could about personality types. She realized that she was not alone – that nearly half the population shared some or all characteristics of introversion.

Rupa learnt that there are many benefits from being an introvert – the ability to listen, the ability to think ahead and plan, the capability to reflect and review, the inclination to view the world rationally and calmly.

She also learnt that the corporate world is not kind to an introvert. Because it is hard to be open, difficult to make small talk, painful to establish rapport with new people, she realized that she was at a disadvantage when it came to attending networking events and building new relationships, which are crucial elements of employment and employability.

While this was discouraging, Rupa squared her shoulders. Now she knew. She knew who she was, and what strengths this gave her, and what weaknesses she had to overcome.

In her usual thoughtful way, she listed out steps that she could take to overcome this ‘disadvantage’ and turn it into an asset.

Step One – Shy People Can Plan

First, Rupa cast her mind back to recalling all the interactions that she had witnessed – between her classmates, her brother’s friends, even her parents.

She listed out the normal topics of conversation –

  • The weather
  • Family
  • Mutual friends
  • Common topics such as movies, books, current affairs, clothes, celebrities, etc.

She then listed out two things more –

  • A list of questions she could ask, to maintain a conversation
  • A narrative that she could use, without diffidence, if she was asked any questions or was asked to share something about herself

On completing this exercise, she decided to test it with two of her classmates who were outgoing and had many ‘friends’. She felt nervous and worried but gathered the courage.

The next day,

She reached out to the first classmate and then the second and put her plan in action. She started the conversation and then asked a few questions. Soon, all she had to do was listen! In both cases, the classmates talked and talked and talked. And Rupa listened and nodded and assented.

Within a week, both the classmates were seeking Rupa out. They loved that she was such a good listener and that they could talk to her about anything.

“You are such a good conversationalist,” said one classmate, not realizing that Rupa barely said more than 10 words during the whole time!

This exercise gave Rupa confidence. Even better, over time, the two classmates then introduced Rupa to their friends, thus expanding her network without her seeking it!

Delighted, Rupa moved to the next step.

Step Two – Shy People Can Empathize

Rupa had already realized that she was not the only introvert. Many of her classmates were, too!

She also realized that she felt more comfortable talking to other quiet or mild people.

So, Rupa drew on her reserves of empathy.

Instead of being scared of starting a conversation, she focused on how she could help other introverts by interacting with them. After all, who could empathize better with an introvert than another introvert?

Again, she chose two classmates.

Over the next week,

Rupa reached out to them in her gentle and unassuming way. She did not push. She let it be known that she, too, was shy, but was available to talk.

It was slow going, but step by step both her introvert classmates opened up to Rupa. Over the course of the next 3 weeks, she learnt about their amazing talents, their achievements, their lives. She felt so good!

“We’ve been together for so many years, and never known one another!” she thought.

At the end of the third week, one of the classmates thanked Rupa. “I am so glad that you reached out to me,” she said, “I have never had real friends before…”

Rupa was on a high! She moved to the third step.

STEP 3 – Shy People Can ‘Socialize’

Rupa had avoided social networks.

Yes, she had a Facebook account and a LinkedIn account, but they were mostly dormant.

She realized that she had not understood the power of these online networks. Now, she recognized that such networks were good for an introvert – that people like her could nurture and build relationships without having to take the stress of face to face interactions all the time.

The next few days,

Rupa revived her online networks and re-connected with her few connections.

Gradually, she started adding one or two thoughtfully, evaluating each to ensure that she picked people who she could add value to, and she could gain learning from. She tentatively started writing a few of her thoughts as posts and articles on LinkedIn and was delighted to see many readers liking and commenting on them. This encouraged her to extend her writings to Facebook, and to open a Twitter account.

In a few months, Rupa had a decent sized online network, and had even developed some of her connections into friends, with whom she would chat one-on-one. Two of her connections had even reached out to her asking if Rupa would like to consider a position in their companies.

Rupa, the introvert, had learnt how to network!

Introverts Do Not Need To Be Invisible

“So, what do you think?” I asked Jazen, sipping on some water.

His eyes shone.

“Thank you for sharing this amazing story,” he exclaimed. “Did you know Rupa personally?”

“Yes, I did,” I said, “She was a member of my team, but much later.”

“Where is she today?” he asked.

“Oh, Rupa is now the General Manager – Operations with a large insurance company,” I answered.

“Do you know of other introverts who have done well?” Jazen continued.

“Dozens. Hundreds, probably,” I said, smiling, “ and most of them very successful!”

“Wow!” he said, and sat back. His eyes continued to shine.

A Chance Meeting

Jazen and I kept in touch regularly. 8 months later, we had the opportunity to meet at an industry conference. We shook hands happily and then agreed to catch-up for coffee during the first break.

“So, I hear things are going well?” I asked.

“Very well!” said Jazen. He seemed much more confident than when we had last met. “As I have informed you, I am now managing a small team, and we are building some amazing apps.”

“And how’s the networking going?” I asked, smiling.

“Rupa’s story was a turning point in my life, Shesh,” Jazen said, with seriousness. “In the last few months, I have followed the learnings from her story and life has changed so much, for the better!”

“I am so glad,” I said, smiling with delight.

“And not just for me,” he continued. “I am now passing on these learnings to other introverts, and each of them is reverting to me saying how things are improving and how they are doing so much better.”

“Can you please thank Rupa for me?” he asked. “I owe her so much!”

“I will,” I promised, “and perhaps someday, you could both meet?”

“Oh, that would be wonderful! I look forward to meeting her!” said the introvert.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studiesriter is a columnist

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By Venkatraman Sheshashayee

Venkatraman Sheshashayee (Shesh) is an engineer by profession, an alumnus of DMET Kolkata and IIM Bangalore, has 33 years of professional experience in shipping, manufacturing, services and offshore logistics. He is a master in building greenfield companies, turning around distressed organizations and transforming stagnant operations. As a corporate leader, Shesh has created US$ 1.5 billion in realized value, mentored and coached over 600 professionals. He runs a boutique advisory that helps MSMEs, Start-ups and Professionals achieve their vision. Shesh runs ‘CEO Chronicles’, a popular blog that has been read and shared more than 100,000 times so far. He is a very seasoned writer based out of Singapore.