Building Workplace Relationships


Maria Simpson, Ph.D.

Are you looking for work and finding the networking techniques that work so well for others more difficult for you and demanding more energy than you have?  If you are helping someone look for work, are you sometimes frustrated or even angry because you do not understand why the networking that comes so easily to you is so difficult for someone else?

Maybe the job seeker is an introvert who feels completely defeated and worn out by these networking tasks or guilty for not having as much energy as others to devote to them. Understanding the reasons for these reactions is the best approach to being helpful.

Below are some suggestions for how to adapt job search techniques to an introvert’s personality and energy level. If you’re not sure if you’re an introvert, this information will help you determine whether or not you have a tendency toward introversion, or you can take a formal assessment and get your profile. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is available at This assessment is the most familiar of its kind and is highly dependable. Or go to and look for the PTI (Personality Type Indicator). I have taken both and am quite satisfied with the results I got from each. (And yes, I am an introvert). Both can be taken online and involve a fee.

A Special Note to Extroverts: I know that you will think this is the dumbest, most unnecessary list of suggestions you have ever seen, but that’s because you don’t understand how difficult these efforts can be to true introverts. In addition, some extroverts interpret claiming to be an introvert as an excuse for not making a strong effort, and that is simply not the case. The social demands on introverts can actually cause negative physical symptoms such as knots in the stomach or clenched hands and muscles, symptoms of the flight or fight response, because some of these situations are that threatening to introverts. Introverts appreciate understanding and support rather than criticism, but if you really believe they are delaying their efforts unnecessarily, then talk it out with them. Eventually, with practice and a few successes, even introverts can learn to be more comfortable socially, and that’s a success in itself.

Good luck with the search!


The key difference between introverts and extroverts is where they get their energy.
  • Introverts get their energy from internal sources. They recharge their own batteries and are worn down by the external environment.
  • Extroverts get their energy from external sources. They thrive on what’s going on around them.


Introverts are drained by the external environment while extroverts thrive on it. Therefore, Introverts:
  • are uncomfortable in large groups of people they don’t know. There are too many things going on around them creating a form of sensory overload.
  • prefer small groups of people they know, or a group that has at least some people they know.
  • may not be comfortable starting conversations with people they don’t know. They are not clear on what basis they can converse, and small talk is often not comfortable. (Anonymous networking events are very difficult for introverts.)
Introverts think internally; they do not think out loud or “run this by you.”   
  • Introverts may appear to have made a decision independently without seeking or considering input from others when they are simply expressing an opinion, and this may make them appear to be aloof and uncaring.
  • Introverts generally come to meetings ready to discuss the information while extroverts need to review the material before discussing it as a sign of inclusion. Introverts may think this is a waste of meeting time and can become impatient.
  • Introverts want to think things through on their own before having a discussion so they know their own perspectives and opinions.
  • Introverts want depth rather than breadth, but share feelings carefully.
  • These behaviors may feel insulting or hurtful to extroverts who may misinterpret them as deliberate attempts to ignore or exclude them when they are simply trying to include the introvert in their process.

In general, Introverts:
  • Prefer reflection to action.
  • Defend against external demands and intrusions (interruptions, changes in schedule).
  • Enjoy working with a small group more than working with a large group.
  • Stay in the background.
  • Prefer to work alone.
  • Need to ensure that extroverts are not hurt or offended by their approach. There is no point antagonizing most other people.


The need for networking does not go away just because you are an introvert. The key to doing it successfully is managing your activities so you have time to recharge your own batteries.

Strategize the use of your time:
  • Give yourself time between meetings or appointments to recharge. Use time in the car for quiet reflection or planning how to address the next situation. Be sure to leave extra time so that you do not feel rushed or pushed if traffic slows you down.
  • Make excuses to find 20 minutes to yourself. Explain that you have to return phone calls; check emails, gather necessary materials, etc. even if you don’t. Use the time to collect yourself and shift gears before going to the next event.
  • Do not make appointments early in the day if you have an appointment late in the day especially if you are not a morning person. Don’t wear yourself out.

Plan your large-group strategy:
  • Define your role in a group, especially if you do not know many people. Do you represent an organization? Have you heard an interesting fact or presentation you can comment on? Do you have a question you want to ask or pursue? Is there someone you want to meet? Are you working on something interesting or have you had a related experience your can tell others (particularly important when job hunting)?
  • Use this definition as a conversation starter and as the basis of your confidence in a large group. You have a role. You are not just another anonymous person. If these suggestions don’t work, look for cues on name badges to use as conversation starters, such as someone’s home town.
  • Plan two things you will say, or a comment you can make and a question you can ask. Predetermining a few phrases takes you out of the, “What’s your sign?” dilemma. Ask about a demo or presentation on a specific topic, or ask how the other person knows the host. If it is a professional society meeting or conference, ask about the person’s particular area of interest or expertise.
  • Determine in advance the minimum amount of time you will stay at an event. If you have made some interesting connections and want to stay longer, do so. If you have not and want to leave, do so, but be clear with yourself that you have met your criteria for leaving.
  • Accept the fact that you may miss an opportunity to make a connection if you don’t stay long, but make that decision consciously and decide if the energy it will take to stay is worth expending.
  • Enter the room with a look of interest in what’s going on around you if not with a smile. People who look distant or uninterested will not meet others. Try to make eye contact and smile or nod your head to strangers. It might generate a conversation. Comment on a booth at which you are both standing.

Learn to be comfortable with:
  • The need for small talk. Small talk is about relationships, not content, and is vital if you plan to make connections of any kind, professional or social. Comment on something familiar to both of you (the situation, the locale, the weather, the really slow elevator, etc.)
  • The need to network. Jobs are found by connections to other people who can refer you or provide you with a contact, even if it doesn’t result in a job. Introverts need a reason for the connection; extroverts do not. Define the reason as the need to make a connection and maybe even meet someone interesting.
  • Following-up on a contact. You may not become best buddies after one meeting, but that does not mean someone will never take your call. Extroverts are quicker to call someone they haven’t spoken to in a while than introverts. Introverts need have a comfortable reason for calling if just to say hello and mention something that might be of interest to the other person. Finding those reasons will make you more confident in making the call.
  • The need to self-promote. Redefine self-promotion as becoming familiar to people so they recognize the broad range of your talents and can introduce you to others – the definition of networking. Engage in activities that make you comfortable. Teach, write, give presentations, join professional societies and get on a committee or a board. Be visible. It is vital for the recommendations you need to get and the connections you need to make.
  • Interruptions. It is often the case that the greetings from extroverts while you are working are seen as interruptions. Rather than get angry, consider it an opportunity to make a connection without having to make an effort. If the contact is truly an interruption, make a joke of it and promise to get back to the other person.

Don’t dismiss the extrovert:
  • Extroverts engage in their behaviors to make contact with others. Cutting them off or being unreceptive may be considered – and probably is – rude. While it may not be exactly your style, their taking the first step to make the contact is a friendly gesture that increases your contacts and relieves you of having to take the dreaded initiative. A certain gratitude is appropriate here.
  • Explaining the steps you have taken to review material or come to an initial conclusion and emphasizing that this was a preparatory step will help the extrovert not to feel excluded from your process. It’s important to explain that you are open to other points of view. Indeed, it’s important to listen to their perspective because it can highlight things you might not have thought of as an introvert, such as the impact on others or other departments.
  • Build on the extrovert’s energy. Ask for an introduction. Ask for information. The extrovert can be helpful, and you should be helpful and gracious in return. It’s comforting to have someone to talk to if you are feeling anonymous in a group.

Decide what work you want to do that does not make unreasonable demands on introverts and set reasonable expectations and definitions of success.
  • Working in small groups or one-on-one (teaching, coaching)
  • Working independently (writing, research)
  • Slower-paced environments

Sometimes all your planning still results in days that are overwhelming. Planning a quiet next day to recharge is the best strategy, but that might not always be possible. You may need to simply push through the schedule and make the best of each situation. You never know when the one you wanted to skip is the one that has the best results.

All best wishes,

© 2009 Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. * Los Angeles, CA * Phone: 641-715-3900 x 1376932 Fax: 310-826-7440 *

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