The Introverted Entrepreneur’s Guide to In-Person Connections.
“You’ve probably heard that extroverts have the advantage in all kinds of venues,” writes Sophia Dembling in her book The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.
“They do better socially. They find mates more easily. They succeed professionally. They make better leaders. They suffer less stress. Less depression. They’re more optimistic. They have better memories. One study even suggests they’re stronger and better-looking, since good-looking babies are rewarded with more attention, which causes them to respond by being more outgoing,” Dembling adds.
All this evidence, according to her, holds little merit to the qualities of introverts and the scales of success they can achieve; both in their personal and professional life.
Dembling explains further: “That extroverts are more professionally successful is one of those pieces of common wisdom that’s not so wise. Do they earn more money? Ask introvert Warren Buffet. Are they more famous? Ask introvert Steve Martin.”
But no matter how introverted Warren Buffet or Steve Martin are, they got to where they are now by virtue of communicating and connecting with others. Achievements are hardly ever done solo. More often than not, we need a few good people on our team.
Connecting in the Startup Community
Whereas the corporate world provided even the most introverted of employees a very structured, hierarchical frame in terms of communicating, networking and connecting, startup communities are living and breathing organisms that are the evolving sum of the unique, individual cultures each entrepreneur brings into them.
There are constantly new things, people and ideas that emerge within or are brought from outside.
The startup mind can often be somewhat of a loner mind, even for people who are generally considered extroverted. Many entrepreneurs begin with a can-do-it-all-alone attitude and only over the course of time, and after cultivating confidence and trust, do they open up and gradually allow outsiders in.
Whether you are a long-time member of a startup community or you are just entering a startup circle, creating healthy person-to-person relationships is crucial; not only for business, but also for personal well-being.
And unless you are a natural social butterfly, anxieties over how to connect and communicate arise.
Social psychologist, relationship expert and author Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh says there are three simple, universal rules introverts can use to form lasting relationships in the startup world:
1. Employing a win-win mentality.
This means being open to giving and receiving; both equally important for mutual growth.
According to Dr. Nasserzadeh, most entrepreneurs have tremendous passion for their ideas, values, products or services, and this passion, when properly utilized, can work to their best advantage when connecting with other passionate entrepreneurs. But shared passion isn’t enough to build a solid relationship base.
Being able to express a clear vision is key; if you can’t convey your clear vision properly, your fellow startup leader will not be able to receive it, let alone support you in any way.
Similarly, if they cannot convey their vision to you clearly, you will be unable to be of service to them.
So get clear on what your primary goal is (preferably that would be one single goal at a time), back it up with your passion and put it out there.
“In the case of investors,” says Dr. Nasserzadeh, “most tend to invest in the person first and in the idea second. If you show a ton of passion but no vision, you may come across as a person who is unreliable and without much substance.”
Another aspect to the win-win mentality is being flexible with the currency exchanged. Many of us enter a conversation or a meeting with the expectation to offer X and get the same in return. If we provide someone with sales leads, we may expect sales leads in return. Or if we make an introduction, an introduction in return may seem fitting.
But the person across from you may have to offer some great marketing insights rather than give you straight up sales leads; or instead of connecting you to other people, they may just listen to your vision, not immediately respond to it, but come around and be of help when you least expect it.
“It’s not always apples for apples. Sometimes it’s apples for oranges, both beneficial! ” says Dr. Nasserzadeh.
2. Showing mutual respect.
The trick here is finding the right amount of respect for others. According to Dr. Nasserzadeh, if you respect a person too much, you may become anxious and stressed out around them. You might not feel comfortable to express your ideas and alternative solutions to what they are offering.
This will then prevents them from seeing your way of thinking and true potential. Placing someone on a pedestal, making someone more special than you are isn’t helping either side.
On the other hand, if you don’t respect the other person enough, you indicate that you don’t believe in their ability to self-sustain and to do things for themselves, let alone having something to offer. You may end up patronizing them or doing all the work for them. Worse yet, you may not take them seriously, which can sabotage an otherwise opportune relationship.
So seek to empower rather than enable. Remember that people are humans first; see them as independent from their past achievements or failures.
We are all equal in our fears, insecurities and aspirations. When you realize this, cultivating compassion and having equal respect for one another becomes a lot easier.
3. Make sure the other person knows, feels and sees that you are committed to the above two.
This step, says Dr. Nasserzadeh, involves active listening.
In her practice, she observed many entrepreneurs who get so wrapped up in their goals and ambitions that they forget to listen actively.
She says active listening involves empathy, consideration and courage to seek and ask the right questions.
“Right questions are only generated if you are genuinely interested and care about the topic under discussion. You can’t plan for the right questions (well, maybe for one or two) but then you can never predict how a conversation goes, therefore you better devise your questions based on the actual conversation rather than premeditated plans,” adds Dr. Nasserzadeh.
So listen to what is said and hear what isn’t said—then ask more questions.