Your job requires you to be equal parts introvert and extrovert.
One way to know if you’re a little too left-brained is if you always talk to the same people—your research team, a sector specialist, the back office folks who place the trades, or clients you’ve worked with for years.
If you find yourself in that space, you need to break out, says Linda Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School and self-proclaimed introvert. She notes people who don’t branch out eventually stop learning new things.
That’s bad, because the more diverse your network, the more you can call on people when you need them.
That can give you a competitive edge.
“If you’re a financial advisor, you need to be constantly aware of what’s on the minds of current and potential clients,” says Hill. “Once you read something in the newspaper, you’ll be late pursuing an opportunity. Everybody knows about it. It’s through people that we get most of our information.”
But if the thought of meeting lots of new people makes you cringe, here are a few tricks to minimize the pain.
Find the intersections: Figure out where your current interests and activities meet with those of people who aren’t already in your network.
Example: Hill sat on the board of her local children’s museum. “At one point I wanted to learn more about Japanese business culture for work,” she says. “Our children’s museum has a Japanese house in it and events associated with the house attract many of Japanese descent or with expertise about Japan. Through this intersection of my personal and professional lives I cultivated a rich network of people who opened doors for me in Japan and were willing to share insights about working there.”
Do what you’re already doing: But, says Hill, spend 10% of your time differently.
Example: “If you go to a board meeting,” she says, “don’t sit next to the person who brought you onto the board, sit next to someone different every time.” The same is true for conferences. Hill goes to at least one working session that she’s not inclined to attend because it seems less relevant or interesting. This often becomes an opportunity to interact with a different group.
Leverage the extroverts: If you’re not naturally gregarious, let those who are help you develop new contacts.
Example: When Hill networks at conferences, she makes a point of sitting “in a highly visible location where I know everybody will walk by. And I sit with people who I know will attract other people.”
While it’s easier for outgoing people to make connections, Hill says, they’re not always as good at preserving those networks.
“If you’re naturally gregarious, you make new relationships easily, but you may not make the time to cultivate them all,” she says.
That leads to only calling people when you need something (information, favours, introductions, client leads), instead of when you can offer assistance.
“Reciprocity is a huge part of maintaining the network,” says Hill.
As a corollary, the size of your network should be based on your ability to preserve it.
“If you can’t reciprocate or respond because you’ve built too big a network, you’ll get a reputation for this and ultimately your broad network won’t pay off.”
Brynna Leslie is an Ottawa-based financial writer.