It can feel tough building your career. It can easily feel like your introversion is holding you back. That your dislike for networking or your avoidance of small talk means you’re being passed over for promotions.
As introverts, it already feels like the world is on a higher difficulty level than for extroverts. It’s noisy. We’re supposed to spend our time after work being with yet more people. Choosing to spend time alone is seen as weird.
These feelings impacts our confidence.
I spoke with one introvert who said: “I would like better people skills and have confidence in social situations so I can put myself out there without fearing what others will say.“
Fear of social judgement, or shyness, is common among introverts. So much so that it’s often confused as introversion. The good thing is that shyness is something you can overcome. On the other hand, your introversion is a part of who you are (and how introverted you are may shift at various points in your life). Learning how to collaborate and work with your introversion means it can power your career, rather than holding you back.
Here are 6 ways you can supercharge your people skills to advance in your career by:
- Saying what you want
- Being seen by your managers and peers
- Working towards promotions
1. Proactively form connections on your terms
Jessica Pan in her wonderful book Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come spoke to a psychologist who makes an excellent point: nobody waves… but everyone waves back.
If you want to have meaningful connections in your life, actively seek them out. Expanding your horizons and stepping out of your comfort zone to meet people in new areas can lead to exciting opportunities.
Set yourself a time limit, say 3 months, and commit to connecting with a core group of people. This is the time to start those art classes you’ve thought about at 4 pm on a Sunday or to volunteer with a charity that’s helping homeless people.
Following what you’re interested in or passionate about is a great way to connect with like-minded people.
Once you’ve started to grow those fragile connections, nourish them by being the friend you always wanted to have. Remember birthdays and send cards. Schedule monthly reminders to message people. Spend an evening writing postcards to everyone you know
Soon it will feel natural initiating contact. You’ll be the person in charge of your social life.
And who knows, someone in your network might help you with a work-related query. Look at those people skills helping you advance your career!
2. Network the introverted way
“Your network is your net worth.”
Sound familiar? We get told to “put ourselves out there”, regularly engage with someone’s content, be social, initiate coffee chats.
As introverts, this can be exhausting. Especially if it turns into a “one and done” deal. You set up the meeting. You spend time researching and making notes on what to talk about. You shed a lot of energy on the actual call and then…
It doesn’t go anywhere in the future.
I’ve been there. I had 20+ networking calls in April this year.
One evening I had 4 calls in a row. I could barely string words together after I finished. (Note to self: don’t do that again.)
I met some fantastic people. People who I’m so glad to be part of their network. People who I want to engage with for the long term. But…
I noticed that as I spoke to more people, I started to lose track of those first connections. I couldn’t work it out. Surely, I thought, the more people I spoke with, the bigger my community would become?
Yet it felt like the complete opposite.
What most standard networking advice forgets is how to maintain these connections. I was determined to not let them slip away.
One morning, I sat with a cup of coffee in a patch of sun and thought about how to regularly keep in contact.
I researched, read blogs, and tested out strategies. It’s resulted in The Ultimate Networking Tracker.
There are two parts to it: (1) maintaining your Current Network and (2) your Dream Network
a) Maintaining your Current Network
Update this every time you speak to someone who you want to keep in your network. I recommend reconnecting every 60-90 days. Put in the date you last spoke in column F. The formula in column G automatically tells you when you should next reach out (it’s currently set to 90 days).
If you’re familiar with tools like Zapier, you can set up an automated calendar event to remind you to contact them. Feel free to use this template to reconnect with someone, before suggesting to catch up over coffee:
I hope you’re well! It looks like you’ve been doing some exciting things lately, I particularly [liked / enjoyed / wanted to mention / found interesting] ___.
I came across this article on ___ [something on their area of expertise or passion], and it reminded me of the work that you do. I liked ___ [mention something in the article]. What are your thoughts?
b) Your Dream Network
These are the people who you would love to include in your personal network. The people who inspire you. Who you look up to, and admire. Think of 5 people who you can add to that tab right now.
The secret to cutting through the noise in someone’s following is column D in the spreadsheet I’ve created for you (scroll down to get the link).
Find the social media platform they’re active on but is their least popular in terms of engagement and followers. Now when you make an insightful and helpful comment (comments like “I agree!” don’t count), you’re much more likely to stand out.
Aim to connect with them ideally every time they post, and twice a week at a minimum.
Take the time to write a few sentences why what they’ve shared is meaningful to you. Expect nothing in return and continue to show up on their posts. Do this consistently. It’s incredible how powerful this strategy can be in turning a dream contact into a real contact.
A word of caution: adding people who have millions of followers, like Brené Brown or Gary V, may not result in huge success. Instead aim for people who are 1-2 steps ahead of where you are. They’ve gone through similar struggles to you and are more likely to respond to your outreach.
Activity: Set up your networking tracker
I’ve put it in a Google Sheet for you here. Click on “file” – “make a copy” to save it into your own drive.
3. Choose specific areas to upskill in
Confidence is all about being certain of your abilities. It’s the feeling that you can handle the outcome of a situation… no matter what is it.
You can leverage this idea by upskilling in certain areas. Specifically, using people skill to advance your career.
Pick something that you enjoy or are naturally good at. For example, I really enjoy writing (which is a typical introvert strength) and developed a reputation at work of being someone who is excellent at proof-reading and copy-writing.
You start to become known as the go-to person for that activity. This starts to take advantage of the halo effect. The Decision Lab describe it as “a cognitive bias that claims that positive impressions of people, brands, and products in one area positively influence our feelings in another area.”
So if someone thinks you’re competent in one area (graphic design, copywriting, spreadsheets), they assume that you’re competent in other areas. i.e. that you’re someone who is good at your job.
Activity: start upskilling
What skills would be good for you to focus on? Pick skills that:
- You’re naturally good at
- You enjoy doing
- Have a ripple effect of enhancing your day-to-day work
Some examples to inspire you:
- Graphic design
- UI / UX design
- Process management
- Database management
- In-depth knowledge of a specific system
- HTML, CSS, etc
- Commercial awareness
4. Pick your timing
Timing is everything.
We’re much more likely to do something for someone or even give their request the time of day if we’re not stressed or busy.
When I managed all the operations for a men’s fashion start-up, it would never fail to astound me how many cold pitches I would get at the busiest time of year for retail: Black Friday and Christmas. Any other time and I might have considered them. At that time of year, no chance!
Asking for a raise or promotion can feel tricky at the best of times, and 10x worse as an introvert. Pick your timing to help you plan in advance how to approach it, while knowing that it will be in an environment these discussions are expected. For example, if you have an annually or quarterly review, definitely plan to have the conversation then.
It’s also important to put your request in writing, particularly for introverts. It might be helpful to write out how to say what you want to bring up in advance of time, and practise speaking it out loud. (Try to avoid over-rehearsing if possible, you want it to still be natural).
Keep your ears open. If you’re hearing that budget cuts might be made or a restructure is happening, asking for a promotion or raise probably won’t go down too well.
5. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Aside from the usual prepration to do before important meetings and calls (looking at your notes, bringing material in advance for the agenda, practising what you want to say), taking advantage of the priming bias can supercharge your request… and is a little-known way to use people skills to advance your career.
Firstly, know the specific outcome that you want. A raise? How much? A new job title? What title?
One of the best pieces of career advice I received was at the book launch for How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen: Keep track of your successes.
Make a list and update it weekly. Nothing is too small. Really celebrate every win you have.
It will make conversations around promotions and pay rises feel much easier. You’ve got a list of results ready to go to support your case.
Sometimes sharing about them feels embarrassing. We don’t want to come across as cringy or pushy. Here’s how to share about your successes in an authentic way: be curious about other people and ask what they’re working on.
What is something exciting that’s happening with them? What are they enjoying.?
At this point, you can also mention what you’re working on. Introversion are often uncomfortable with the spotlight. This shifts the conversation so the focus isn’t on us, while giving us the opportunity to slide in our accomplishments.
Now it’s time to start priming.
According to The Decision Lab, priming is “when an individual’s exposure to a certain stimulus influences his or her response to a subsequent stimulus, without any awareness of the connection”.
For example, if you’ve been talking about Mexican food to your friends for a week and ask at the weekend where they would like to go to eat out, Mexican food will probably one of the top choices. You’ve planted the seed early on.
The Decision Lab have a great example here:
You can use this to your advantage in your career:
- Continue dropping in examples of your successes while in 1:1s with your manager. Asking for a raise will feel easier as you’ve been “proving yourself” for a period beforehand.
- Be enthusiastic about a hobby or activity you’re doing outside of work that’s linked to an upcoming project. When responsibilities are being assigned for the project, you will be the natural solution. For example, if you’re known for loving food, there is an obvious link to working on marketing projects or account management to clients who are food-based.
- Show that you are driven and ambitious by taking courses and reading books, then sharing your learnings with colleagues. Being given more responsibility seems like a no-brainer: you have the reputation for being determined and intelligent.
How else can you use priming with people skills to advance your career?
Take some time in advance to practise everything you want to bring up.
Speaking it out loud is a great way to help the information stick in your brain. You’ll feel more confident on the actual day.
The Fairy God Boss has some excellent examples to start you off:
- I enjoy my job and working at this company. Here are some things I’ve achieved… [pull out your success list].
- I’ve done some research and see that my job pays up to XX. [Use the high end of your salary research as reference]
- I’d like to discuss how I can get a salary increase. Or: What criteria do I need to meet to get to that higher salary?
So there you have it! 6 ways to use people skills to advance your career.
I’d love to know, what resonated with you the most?
Celebrating all your success!