How Reading Made me a Better Networker
I am an introvert, therefore I am a deep thinker, highly creative (especially when seeking solutions), an avid reader and a despiser of small talk. Having made this premise, I have become a fairly good networker, an even better one after incrementing the number of books I read a year.
According to popular belief, introverts are hermits, antisocial or recluse. We are not. We enjoy parties and people, but when we find ourselves in an over-stimulated environment for prolonged periods of time, our internal timer goes off and, when it does, we start to wish we were home. Due to this countdown, I do not enjoy small talk, why would I want to 'waste time' talking about the weather when I could spend it understanding who you are, what you like and what you do? What has helped me immensely navigate these chit-chats are books.
Reading introduces you to many topics, various registers and parallel worlds. Which means you become, almost immediately, capable of speaking with people you might not have been able to before.
Culture as a superpower
Culture is an incredible superpower, it allows you to understand what you like and what you don't, comprehend why you don't appreciate something and be able to have a conversation on it, sharing points of view. This is extremely important when networking, as it will allow you to transition from small talk to a conversation, you might not agree with your counterpart, but you can always agree to disagree and compare notes. (Just remember: this might not work when speaking about politics or religion).
Understanding, digesting and interpreting concepts from the books I read allowed me to form my ideas on several topics that range from marketing (a personal favorite of mine) to psychology, philosophy and technology. As a consequence, I have been recognized as knowledgeable by those around me, which has led to be introduced to new people and the development of new opportunities. In one particular case it has led me to have a ridiculously long conversation on conspiracy theories, which I am not a believer of but, nonetheless, I have been able to survive the night, and now makes for a good story. There will always be outliers, this was one of mine.
Don't make networking your enemy
Networking often receives a bad reputation as it is associated to industry events and conferences where people are just trying to share business cards. You are not required to attend such events and collect cards to build a network. You can meet people almost anywhere: parties, office, subway or libraries. Furthermore, you just have to be able to make the conversation about them.
Normally, in order to strike up a conversation with someone you don't know you are supposed to do some prior research. Find out connection points and figure out what their interests are. Once you find out you have to get informed on the topic because, let's be honest, you might not share the same tastes.
If you manage to develop a reading habit and read diverse books, what happens is you will almost involuntarily learn about topics that were once foreign to you. This drastically cuts the research time you do on people you would like to strike a conversation with, because you will be developing your personal bank of knowledge. This also mean you will be able to take part in many more conversations. What's great is that it also works if you did not enjoy something you have read. In this case, you can admit you did not particularly enjoy something, be clear you are open to new suggestions on the topic or to get more information about it, then maybe when you go back to it, you will end up appreciating it.
You are not required to read purely non-fiction. According to research, fiction helps to improve the reader's level of empathy. This is because it allows you to vicariously live through the protagonists and experience different environments and see the world through different lenses. Furthermore, the more empathic you are, the more you are able to comprehend the people you talk to.
Reading will feed your curiosity which will push you to be genuinely curious in what the other person has to share. Moreover, it will allow you to appreciate their interests and make them feel welcome and appreciated. Which, in return, means they will be more open and interested in you too.
Devouring a book a week allowed me to make my counterpart the hero of the movie they are telling me, but instead of me passively watching, I could present the protagonist options or steps they could decide to take in order to demonstrate them my willingness to help, develop the chance to get back in contact with them at a later date and prove to them my expertise. This is how I managed to get a job referral, connect with a wide rage of people that are much more experienced than me and who now appreciate my company. The secret to this ability is not so secret after all, it is available to everyone and, in large part, free due to public libraries: reading various titles from many generes and making this gathered knowledge your own.