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How to Go from Shy Networker to Brilliant Conversationalist

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 29, 2007

732128_72168845.jpg Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, Intl. recently wrote an article for in which he explained why introverts can be great networkers because they are already great listeners.  Now, Dr. Misner is a nationally recognized expert in networking, but I have several issues with the article that he wrote.

First, he does not distinguish between introverts and people who are shy.  As we’ve discussed in previous posts, while these two traits can come together, they are not identical.  The tips he gives in his article to help introverts are really aimed at shy individuals.  Many introverts enjoy other people; they just find interactions with them draining.  To be effective, introverts need to remember to pace themselves and find ways to re-energize. 

But what concerns me the most about the article is that it states that introverts are naturally better listeners than extroverts because they have a tendency to be quiet. What this doesn’t take into consideration is the noise going on inside either the shy or introverted person’s head.  While sitting quietly, and appearing to listen, the shy person may really be thinking:

“…everyone here is dressed better than I am..I wonder where she got that suit…maybe I should have worn a suit….I never wear the right thing….what is she talking about now?….uh oh, I wonder if she is going to expect me to respond?….I don’t know what to say…maybe if I keep nodding my head she will keep talking….I wonder if I look like a bobble head with my head nodding…..”

while an equally quiet introverted person might be thinking,

“I wonder when I can leave….I’ve been here for 45 minutes I think…I wish I could see my watch…but if I look, she’ll know I’m not paying attention….hey that guy’s wearing a watch….maybe I can see it out of the corner of my eye…..hey, great! 52 minutes….by the time I go to the bathroom and get my coat, it will be one hour since I got here….that’s long enough…I wonder if I have to find the hostess to say good-bye or if I can just slip out….”

So, as you can see, silence is not always golden. It is, as Dr. Misner pointed out, the first step in effective listening. But to really be effective at listening, it helps to know the following:

1) Don’t feel pressured to say something brilliant in response.  Most people are starved for attention. If you will actually concentrate on what they are saying instead of listening to the noise going on in your head, they will sense your interest and enjoy talking to you.

2) Express yourself without words.  Facial expressions, head nods, encouraging murmurs (“hmmm”, “I see”, “wow”, “really!”, etc.) enable you to participate in the conversation without actually having to say anything.

3) Ask open-ended questions.  This sounds harder than it is.  It helps to ask questions that start with “what” or “how”.  Avoid asking questions that can be answered with one word, especially if that word is “yes” or “no”.  For example, it’s much better to ask “What was your favorite experience  in Mexico?” rather than “Did you enjoy your trip to Mexico?” 

By bundling these three techniques together, the shy person can carry on quite a long conversation without the pressure of being witty or funny.  And as Dr. Misner points out, the smart networker can use these conversations to learn much more about the prospective customer than their more talkative companions.

By really listening to what the other person has to say, you can identify their goals, their challenges and their motivations and determine ways that you and your product or service can help them with their needs. When you do decide it’s time to speak, your conversation will be tailored to them and their concerns – and they will think you brilliant!!


One Response to “How to Go from Shy Networker to Brilliant Conversationalist”

  1. Tracy said

    I really like this site and find it a useful font of info. I benefited from the article “How to be a brilliant conversationalist – even if You’re shy” because shyness is something I battle with. I think it’s a great point that if one doesn’t allow oneself to feel pressured to be brilliant, engages in non verbal expressiveness and asks open ended questions – one can end up being effective at networking events..


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