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Networking for People Who Hate Networking - an interview with Devora Zack

Interview by: Giles Metcalfe

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Devora ZackDevora Zack is a nationally recognized expert in the field of leadership development. Her consulting, networking strategies, seminars, corporate retreats, coaching, and strategic plans consistently result in improved productivity and morale.

Ms. Zack consults to dozens of diverse organizations in private industry, federal agencies, and the public sector. She has served as visiting faculty for Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management for over 13 years.

Her book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, is published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

GM: What was the background to you writing Networking for People Who Hate Networking?

Devora Zack:

I have been a leadership consultant and coach for 15 years specializing in communication and teamwork. I have an MBA (Cornell University) in organizational behaviour and a BA (University of Pennsylvania) in Communication and Psychology. I am a certified practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I have worked professionally as an actress and educator as well.

I met up with Berrett-Koehler Publishers who told me this is the book I have to write. They are right about everything, I’ve since learned.

GM: How difficult is it for a self-confessed introvert to self-promote?

Devora Zack:

Following the traditional self-promotion ‘rules’ is exhausting, draining, and a road to nowhere for introverts. Attempting to adhere to commandments such as "more is more", "never eat alone", "sell yourself", and "socialize early and often" spells failure for a solid 50-70 per cent of us. Why? Because to do so requires many people to be phoney, a strategy that never works. Past efforts to do so have turned myriad introverts off from networking and self-promotion – proclaiming (or, more likely thinking!) they hate it and are terrible at it.

In fact, a wonderful new set of rules are out there for introverts to create and follow (we don’t like to merely follow mind you) custom-suited to match our natural personality style. Previously perceived liabilities become our greatest strengths.

GM: I’m an introvert myself, yet I find it easy to pose you probing and potentially difficult questions… But then I don’t know you and I’m sat at my desk typing this up and not talking to you face-to-face…

Devora Zack:

Exactly. That's prime introvert behaviour! Remember the three key distinguishing traits of introverts:

  1. think to talk
  2. energize alone
  3. go deep.

In writing these particularly thoughtful questions, you get to indulge in all three characteristics. Perfect situation for you to prosper.

GM: A proportion of the book is devoted to establishing the introvert and extrovert archetypes… Søren Kierkegaard said, "Once you label me you negate me". Isn’t it inherently negative to define people by their archetype and thus risk stereotyping them?

Devora Zack:

With all due respect to Kierkegaard, neuroscientists have discovered the human brain is hard-wired to categorize. We are bombarded with many thousands of stimuli – including glimpses into personality patterns – daily, and would be non-functional if we couldn’t label and identify trends in events and people. The issue is what we do with our inherently flawed external observations. Passing judgment, projecting motives, inferring intent or making assumptions all result from the unforgivable error of comparing your insides with other people’s outsides. In other words, I observe a behaviour and decide what that says about you.

Archetypes are real. From over twenty years of work applying personality theory to real life and working with tens of thousands of people from every imaginable demographic, I am here to tell you that behaviour patterns of introverts and extroverts are unbelievably distinct and predictable. It is fascinating, and I particularly love enabling my clients to revel in the humour inherent in those distinctions – breaking down barriers and transforming annoyance into appreciation. For labels to be useful, they need to be purely descriptive of what we observe.

GM: Preceding question not withstanding, what are introverts’, and extroverts’ defining characteristics in a work context?

Devora Zack:

Because introverts energize alone, they do their best work with plenty of mini time-outs every single day. Time alone reading, walking, or just looking out the window. Extroverts energize through and with other people so need social time each workday.

Introverts think to talk so need to process new ideas and requests before responding. Extroverts talk to think so literally need to speak to know what they think and prefer. The resulting stereotypes are that introverts are negative because their initial reaction is frequently ‘no’ if not allowed time to process, and extroverts are perceived as insincere because they will say something and appear to change their minds immediately afterwards.

Introverts prefer fewer stimuli and activities at any given time and extroverts like a lot of action. This is because introverts go deep into thought and discussion and extroverts cast a wide net of relationships and activities.

"The primary ingredient to success in this arena is focus. Pay attention to the clues others constantly bombard you with about their communication preferences and natural temperaments."

GM: Whom do you prefer to work with?

Devora Zack:

Anyone with self-awareness and a great sense of humour. Really. I have learned to truly appreciate, enjoy, and depend on introvert, extrovert, and centrovert colleagues.

GM: I’m guessing that as our readership consists of highly successful business executives and leaders that they’ll all be extroverts… What’s your advice to them on the subject of managing introverts?

Devora Zack:

Over half of my highest level, successful executive coaching clients are strong introverts. Success, attitude, energy, business savvy, and charisma are not linked to introversion and extroversion. This is a shock to many people who subscribe to the false stereotypes of introverts as folks who are shy, withdrawn, and insecure. The only true distinguishing characteristics of introverts is that they generally need to think before talking (unless on a topic with which they are very familiar), go deep (have fewer, deeper relationships and interests), and energize alone (and prefer one-on-one over group interactions). Introverts are particularly adverse to interruptions. I help executives honour, manage and work with these preferences rather than fight against them... i. e. ‘A good leader is always available to his people so I need to have an open door policy.’

In the case of extroverts inspiring and managing introverts, or vice versa, the key is learning to flex your style.

GM: On the off chance that an introvert is reading this, what advice would you give him or her on managing extroverts?

Devora Zack:

Once this article goes to press there is a 100 per cent chance plenty of introverts will read this! So listen up, you introverts!

There are a lot more tips in my book, but here are a few for you:

  1. Understand and accept that extroverts really need to socialise and talk with others. Extroverts on your team are not wasting time in the same way you would be by chatting throughout the day. While constant chitchat drains you, it provides them with the energy to be productive.
  2. Prepare in advance a few somewhat personal facts about yourself you are comfortable sharing with colleagues. Because they so freely share their interests, hobbies, activities, and past accomplishments, relationships can start to feel one-sided if you always clam up.
  3. When supervising extroverts, explain to them you really don’t do well with constant interruptions. Except in occasional emergency situations, everyone will benefit if you pre-arrange meetings rather than honouring drop-ins throughout the day.

GM: Can you expand on your concept of the "centrovert"?

Devora Zack:

Until now, we have been limited to two descriptors on the introvert-extrovert temperament continuum. This causes slight introverts and slight extroverts to feel slighted! They can relate to both extremes of the spectrum. The term centrovert reminds us that personality types have infinite variations and few of us are on the extreme end. More specifically, it provides centroverts with a better understanding of their own strengths. Often those in the middle think that means they are somehow weak or wishy-washy. Instead, they are in the best position to mediate, negotiate, and collaborate simply because they have an inherent understanding of different styles that is more challenging for the rest of us to develop.

GM: You say that "if you do not have a gift for chatter, focus on what you do have – a predisposition to watch and gather data." Whilst I applaud the notion of playing to one’s strengths, are introverts forever doomed to be mere observers at networking events rather than participants?

Devora Zack:

Not at all! What is the best way to gather data about others? By asking well-formed questions and displaying a sincere interest in them. Inquiry into others interests and backgrounds is a tremendous networking skill. It also requires 100 per cent presence and focus on whoever is in front of us – the opposite of passive. People love when others display an interest in them, and introverts don’t need to drum up ideas for typical, dull small talk. It is a brilliant networking strategy for introverts.

GM: Can those of us who struggle with small talk go in with a set of utilitarian but versatile answers to any question in our verbal toolkit?

Devora Zack:

To a certain extent. Because introverts think to speak, we can be thrown off when asked unexpected questions. Fortunately, certain basic topics frequently repeat themselves when meeting new people so anticipating and preparing responses is a nice safety net for introverts. What about when someone asks you a question to which you uncomfortable responding or just don’t have time to come up with a well-formed response on the spot? My book has a long list of options such as ‘Great question. What do you think?’ ‘Interesting. I’d not considered that, I need to think about it.’ And ‘I couldn’t possibly delve into that here!’

GM: Can you expand on your concept of "Treat others how they want to be treated"?

Devora Zack:

Many organisations are very challenged by establishing ‘respect in the workplace.’ This is because respect is a relative term. An introvert may define being respectful as giving him space. An extrovert might believe respect means inquiring about her family or life outside of work.

Treating others how I want to be treated (to paraphrase the golden rule) means I won’t be as effective as possible when working with others. For example, when an extrovert returns from a two-week vacation, she may think it is respectful to ask all about the trip. An introvert might find that intrusive and awkward.

The first step is noticing (or asking) how others want to be treated. The next is developing the ability to meet others where they are at – giving more space to some and a bit more time ‘catching up’ with others.

Being non-judgmental is also fundamental. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard introverts accused of being unfriendly simply because it drains them to cheerfully greet everyone they pass in the morning.

GM: What is "flex for success"?

Devora Zack:

Flexing your style means, while remaining true to who you are, learning how to communicate with others in the way they are comfortable. Just as being flexible in your body makes you stronger physically, having a flexible communication repertoire makes you a stronger and more effective leader and person.

GM: I’m useless at taking people’s names in when introduced to them, not because I’m ignorant but because I have some sort of mental block to the information going in straightaway… Can you help me and other such "disturbed rememberers" (after Sigmund Freud) overcome this networking stumbling block?

The mental block most people face in remembering names is that we didn’t actually "hear" it in the first place. The first step is to decide you really care about learning names. I have heard that noticing the other person’s eye colour while repeating back the name triggers memory retention. Even if this isn’t scientifically accurate, I do know that looking directly into someone’s eyes requires us to give that person our complete attention – and that definitely improves retention rate. A slew of concrete tips are included in the book for remembering names according to your own primary processing system – auditory, visual, or kinaesthetic.

GM: What roles do you feel goal setting and NLP play?

Devora Zack:

I have a chapter on goal setting in the book and always include it in my seminars, so I think goal setting is critical for success. As a certified NLP practitioner for a decade, I am a big fan of many NLP techniques, and in particular this approach to goal setting. The reason many people fail to reach their goals is not because they are weak-willed or lazy. It is because most goals are poorly formed. NLP-based goal setting, which is taught in my book, is outcome driven and truly works. I use it myself all the time.

GM: Can anyone learn these techniques?

Devora Zack:

Sure. The primary ingredient to success in this arena is focus. Pay attention to the clues others constantly bombard you with about their communication preferences and natural temperaments. Many of us miss 95 per cent of these cues because we are distracted. Disciplining yourself to focus on those around you is one of the finest skills to enhance your rapport with others.

Find out more about Devora Zack and Networking for People Who Hate Networking.