Networking for Introverts

Networking…AAAAAAHHH!!!!  The mere mention of the word creates polarizing emotions for many.  The art of shaking hands and kissing babies is beloved by some and feared by others.  But, no matter how many social media platforms we create, Face-to-face networking is not going away.  So let’s chat about it, shall we?  
In order to effectively discuss networking we must first think about it through the context of personality.  Reason being: you can’t talk about playing the game if you don’t even know how to get to the ballpark.  In this post I’ll focus on my introverted independents and next one will be about my extroverted extras.   No matter whether you identify as an introvert or extrovert or somewhere in between, it’s important to remember that our personalities exist on a spectrum and depending on the day, situation, or people – we may fluctuate in our introverted or extroverted qualities.
Here are some things we know about introverts:
  1. Introverts tend to draw their energy from being alone or in small groups with people they know.  For an introvert, being around people – especially new people – requires effort and can lead to statements like: “hey, I really need to get home and tend to my terrariums” (well before the social interaction or engagement would have normally been over). 
  2. Typically, introverts have a few amazing friends they build very deep and meaningful relationships with. An introvert may say, “why should I spend my time making new friends when I could further enrich the relationships I already have and love?” Introverts aren’t concerned with having lots of friends – they just want and need a few very close ones.
  3. Introverts often think first and talk…maybe never. The quality of thinking first is a great one, but can stand in the way of participating in group discussions and gives others the perception that introverts are shy or stand-offish. Introverts are often very introspective and actively process what others are saying, making them great listeners if they aren’t distracted by their own thoughts and wonderings!
Now that we have politely stereotyped introverts, let’s consider how introverts can best navigate networking situations.  Here are my tips for your next networking event, alumni dinner, professional social, etc.:
  1. When you’re in a conversation with someone, take the opportunity to ask for some advice. Introverts are practiced listeners, so ask a question or questions that will get others talking for a while. Use that time to learn something new and ask follow up questions. Also, let’s be honest, asking for advice is a huge compliment to whomever you are speaking and in networking a little ego stroking is not a bad thing.  
  2. Set a realistic goal for how many new conversations you want to have.  Rather than scrambling to play 20 questions with everyone in the room, pick one or two people to talk to. If the idea of talking to lots of strangers makes you think of no less than three excuses why you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do it, make it manageable and plan to talk to just a couple people. Simply set a goal for yourself to meet three new people. After, reward yourself with some alone time: go outside for a breather, go grab a drink, use the restroom, find a corner and flip through Instagram, text with your best friend, etc. 
  3. If you’re worried about breaking the ice and starting conversations, bring a wing-man/woman/person. Ask someone to come along with you that is a good conversation initiator – maybe an extroverted friend?!  If you can bring someone who doesn’t mind the awkward small talk at the beginning of a conversation, then you can jump in on the conversation once there is more substance. Just make sure before you walk in to tell your partner in crime the deal – they are there to initiate conversations, introduce you, and then leave – making room for you to shine. 
  4. Play to your strengths! As an introvert, you are a relationship developer and are usually in it for the long haul. For this reason, I believe introverts have the potential to be better networkers in the long run than their extroverted counterparts. You listen more, you pay attention, you focus, you ask deeper questions, and you build lasting relationships… if that’s not sexy, I don’t know what is!
  5. Realize that you are worthy of being in any conversation! I have actually heard introverts say things like: “I don’t have anything to add to the conversation” or “I felt weird saying anything…” – remember that you do have something to add to the conversation and that your comments aren’t scrutinized by anyone else as much as they are by you. Take a chance, share your thoughts!
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, the idea of networking and making sure you make a good impression can be a very intimidating process; but, the more you play to your natural strengths, the easier it will be to navigate. If you have thoughts about introverts and networking or just want to practice, tweet at me: @JamesTRobo
-James Robilotta

Remember Long Division?

Was anyone else like me in elementary and middle school math?  I would take addition and multiplication over subtraction and division any day.  I don’t really know why, maybe they were easier, or maybe it was the budding optimist screaming inside me saying more of everything for everyone!  Either way, I especially could not stand long division.  It took too long and took up too much paper and sometimes you didn’t even wind up with an exact answer!  Divide 2041 by 33 and you get 61.8484848… with a remainder of the frustration over the loss of my hopes and dreams and time I’ll never get back.  The 

calculator is a beautiful invention and one I wish we were allowed to use early in our learning of mathematics.  Then we could push past the “how to do it” and get to the “real world application” of math that would have been more engaging and applicable later in life. 

Note: I mean no disrespect to Math teachers.  Mine played a valuable role in my education but I’m just saying we are not going back to abacuses and slide-rules anytime soon.  As a teacher, I personally would have more fun focusing on the application piece of what I’m teaching.  Maybe I’m alone on that, maybe I’m going to get beat up by a bunch of math teachers until I have 5! bruises on me (120 bruises for those of you trying to remember what a factorial is).  Either way, technology helps us be more efficient in our lives and hopefully allows us to spend more time doing the things we love vs. completing menial tasks.
As much as I love technology though, there is one area where we cannot rely on it.  Problem solving in our organizations will never being effectively fixed by texting or emailing. They are passive forms of communication.  If members are slacking off, not showing up for meetings/events, not paying dues, etc. a text message or guilt-trippy email will not cause them to suddenly change course.  The technique we must employee is the long division equivalent to text messaging, a face-to-face conversation.   
Talking face-to-face is hard.  It’s awkward. It’s time consuming. But, it’s effective.  Remember that nice text you got one time thanking you for doing something?  Yeah, me neither.  Remember that time someone asked you to go out for coffee/tea just so they could tell you how what you did made a positive impact?  Heck yeah I do!  The same thing works for developmental moments that leaders need to have with their members.  Texts can be deleted or dismissed with an Emoji reply.  Emails can be read and scoffed at then left to die in the inbox abyss.  Face-to-face conversations cannot be ignored.
Next time you have a member not doing what they are supposed to be doing and/or going against your organization’s mission, invite them for ice cream or to go for a walk.  Get out of the residence hall, campus center, or fraternity/sorority house and share what you have noticed.  See if something bigger has been going on in their lives. Ask if they are still passionate about the organization and if not, ask why are they still in it?    If they do still care then together come up with a course of action to get them reinvigorated.   It will be awkward.  But if you approach it authentically and don’t attack them, then it will be effective.   Take the time, do it correctly and then in the end, just like with long division, you’ll get the right answer.  
-James Robilotta

Flip Your Small Talk Script

“OMG can you believe how cold it’s been?” “I know, right?”  “I know, right?”  “I know, right?”  “It’s stupid” “I know, right?”  “I know, right?”  “I know, right?”  “And why is this elevator taking so long? “I know, right?”  “I know, right?”  “I know, right?” 
Does this sound like a conversation you’ve had recently?  It’s moments like this that make people hate small talk.  Silence would be more appealing to many.  Others grin and bear it whilst deeply regretting that they forgot their headphones. Superfluous chatter to fill awkward silences is painful but try not to let those situations jade your opinion of all small talk.
Small talk is necessary and no matter how much you try to fake looking at your phone or checking your watch it is unavoidable.  So how can we make it better?  I have noticed that most small talk is initiated with a negative statement or complaint.  People refer to how bad the weather is, how much time something is taking to happen, long lines, etc.  We do this because it is safe.  It is safer to point out something you don’t like than it is to talk about something you do like because when you share something that you like you are exposing yourself a little.  And that’s scary!  But what if we flipped the script? 
Starting small talk from a positive place would us allow to more quickly connect with others.  Think about it, when was the last time you were recounting a story about someone you met and you said, “So I met someone else who thinks it’s been abnormally cold this winter.”  That doesn’t happen because the moment wasn’t memorable, it was fluff.  Whereas, I bet you can think of the last time that you randomly met someone who liked something you also liked.  For example, that guy at the DMV that you sat next for an hour who also loved applesauce!  
Whether your goal is recruitment, networking, or just to meet more people around campus/work/community, I encourage you to approach small talk differently.  A stranger and I are not going to go from zero to BFFs in one conversation.  But every time we see each other if we allow ourselves to be more and more vulnerable the connection will be made and a friendship or respect-backed working relationship will be formed.  Small talk is only meaningless when we approach it with a negative tone, so flip your small talk script!
-James Robilotta

Slice of Priorities Pie

Most young leaders I know spend a lot of their time trying to help everyone.  They double-book themselves, have not learned the meaning of the word “no”, and in turn they consistently put others needs before their own.  What winds up happening are two things: 1) their followers don’t see any progress so they begin to show up less and less, and 2) the leader gets burnt out, beats her/himself up, and is convinced she/he is not cut out for being a leader. 
As a student leader I was like this.  I was over-committed, never said “no”, rarely slept, gained weight, and my academics suffered.  I wanted to be there for everyone.  As a Resident Assistant I was there for all of my residents at all hours and I was ready to talk with them about whatever whenever and for as long as they needed.  My own schedule didn’t matter and what my body was telling me mattered even less.

My supervisor, Michelle, pulled me aside after my pattern had repeated itself a number times.  She told me to look at my life as if it was a pie. Now, you already know I am all about some desserts (here’s my post about chocolate “magic shell”), so I was quickly on board.  She said, cut your pie to where each slice represents an accurate percentage of how much time you devote to different aspects of your life weekly.  Include sleep, studying, time spent with your partner, social life, time in the gym, each of the clubs you’re involved in, classes, and being a resident assistant.  Needless to say, I had a lot of small pieces.  After seeing my pie she then asked me a question:  Is it fair to you and to others that each of these commitments only gets this small percentage of your energy and time?
If you’re big and sexy like me you know that the best pieces of pie are the large ones.  They are the ones that get you most excited and, though they require the most commitment to finish, it doesn’t feel like work because you really love pie!  The same should go for the obligations you care the most about on campus.  If you have a title in every organization you’re a part of, that’s a red flag.  If your partner says they don’t feel like your priority, that’s a red flag (in one of many potential directions).  If your health and your academics are afterthoughts, that’s a problem.  Start cutting your “Priorities Pie” into bigger pieces to give yourself more mental and physical energy to focus on the things you are passionate about and the things you have to like health, family, and academics. 
-James Robilotta


How do you show love?

My life is really hard you guys, my wife and I have two golden retrievers and one of them, Sophie, aka Lil Stink, absolutely loves me. I know she loves me because she licks me… a lot.  This means one of two things, I either taste good all of the time (potentially true, but probably not) or she just really likes her Dad.  We would all be so lucky to have someone in our lives love you as unconditionally as Sophie does me, but I have to be honest: she drives me nuts sometimes!  I can’t tie my shoes, type on my laptop, use the restroom, or breath with out her incessantly licking me.  Again, I live a hard life. #strugglebus.  

Here’s the thing, though: it is awesome that Sophie loves me.  My issue is that the way she shows her love to me, I find annoying and off-putting.  In fact, some days I could go without her showing me that she loves me.  And, that is just sad because all adorable little Sophie wants is show me how much she loves me and licking me is how she expresses it.   

So my question to you is: how do you show your organization’s members, co-workers, etc. that you love and appreciate them?  We all show love differently; and, we all like to be shown love differently, too.  Some people would rather be told they did a good job over getting a hug.  Others might not feel special because you bought them a gift, they would have rather you spent time with them and just talked.  In order to find out how they like to be appreciated, ask!  Don’t assume that you know the best way to make someone feel validated.   

A very simple thing you can do is have everyone on your team take Gary Chapman’s free and quick “5 Love Languages” test at Chapman breaks down the way we give and show into five categories: quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts.  After your team takes it, share with one another and make a note of how each person you are working with likes to be shown love so, when the time is right, you can truly make them feel appreciated.  (Note: if physical touch is their number one, you might also want to write down their second choice…no need to make it awkward.)  On that note, I am going to go tell Sophie the results of my Love Languages test.

-James Robilotta


CVS/Pharmacy: Purpose vs. Prosperity


 A powerful decision was made by CVS/Pharmacy today.  They announced that they would no longer carry any tobacco products in their stores.  It was definitely a bold and profit-effecting move but when asked about it CVS CEO, Larry J. Merio, stated, ”Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” and concluded with, “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”  

BOOM! I love this.  1st off, let’s be honest… this move is not going to make CVS broke.  They are doing just fine.  But it is the reason behind the company’s firm choice that is role modeling and authentic leadership at its finest.  

Authentic leaders must lead from their gut: from their own personal definition of what is right and what is wrong (aka morals).   The moment we feel like we are doing something incongruent with our morals we must stop and think, “why am I who I am?”  Our morals are the foundation that we build everything in our lives upon. CVS realized just that.  They felt that selling cigarettes was going against their idea of what is right for them and their customers.  

Morals in business often get fuzzy because at the end of the day money has to be made otherwise there is no business.  That is where the idea of “purpose” comes in.  Your purpose, or the reason behind why you do what you do, can have multiple aspects but the minute we take our morals out of the equation is the minute we begin failing.   

CVS’s purpose is two-fold: they want to help people on their journey to better health and they want to make a profit doing so.  I am sure they don’t advertise the second half as much, but it’s implied.  I like to say, your intent will influence your impact.  By selling tobacco products it blurs CVS’ intent which is to help people live healthier lives and it negates their desired impact: people actually living healthier lives.  

This is a great example for us all to learn from.  As student leaders we are sometimes faced with hard decisions.  The most popular decision is not always the best decision and short-term praise is often chased over long-term success.  We see it all of the time in racist/sexist theme parties thrown by organizations.  Sure the party will be a blast and will get your organization immediate attention, but it will do so at the cost of greatly damaging your organizations proud historied purpose.  You may have initially joined that org because of the pomp and circumstance but you’ll rep that org till the day you die when you uphold and live out it’s purpose.  

Shout out to CVS/Pharmacy for making a purpose-based decision today.  And shout out to the student leaders who are doing that on their campuses every day.  

-James Robilotta

Don’t be a “Magic Shell” Leader

There isn’t much I love in this world more than ice cream.  I currently live in a very small town in upstate New York that is surrounded by a lot of other small towns.  All of them have 3 things in common: the smallest Post Office you’ve ever seen, more farm animals than people, and a small shack that sells soft-serve ice cream that is so good you want to slap someone.   Whenever I pass one, my car somehow always pulls in and parks. Please, I’ve pushed little kids out

of the way while running and yelling for the ice cream truck to stop. Friends, I am serious.  The only reason I’m not eating ice cream right now is because I’m on a plane.
I’ll take ice cream however I can get it.  Waffle cone? Done. Sundae? Done.  In my hand? Done.  I can’t keep it in the house because I can’t keep it out of my mouth.  Alright, I’m not that crazy but ice cream and I are quite good friends.  I treat it well and always give it the best toppings culminating with rainbow sprinkles so it looks jazzy.   One of my favorite toppings is “Magic Shell.”   You know, the chocolate syrup that you pour on your ice cream and it instantly hardens creating a heavenly helmet for your sundae.
Recently, while eating ice cream, I thought about how it feels like some people are wearing “magic shells.”  They cover their true selves with a “shell” or shield because they think they have to succeed.   They think that if they show their true personality people will judge them and think less of them.  This is a survival method for the insecure.  I know because I still do it from time to time.
This a detrimental approach for leaders.  The trust building in relationships that stems from authentic conversations far outweighs the importance of temporarily looking good when it comes to long-term success.  Don’t be the kind of person who jumps in front of the parade and steals all of the credit.  If we are going to effectively lead our peers then we must show them that we are human, we make mistakes just like everyone else.  We shouldn’t be afraid to let people in - as scary as that might be.  It’s OK if you don’t know everything, it’s OK if you’ve messed up, we’ve all done it and that’s what makes us human… its what helps us grow. Just remember that if you’re too busy trying to “fake it till ya make it” then you are missing out on opportunities to build real relationships, with real people, without the pressure or distraction of being inauthentic. So instead, surround yourself with people who have strengths you lack so that you can openly and honestly learn and grow together. Take a risk - take off your magic shell.

-James Robilotta


The William & Mary Sigma Chi email is 1 of the worst things I’ve ever read. Atrociously disrespectful & really sad. I will not post it here because it’s that offensive and pathetic but i will say this: Men, we need to be better. We must call each other out when we hear misogynistic speech and we must stand up for respect of others over “bro-code”. I know it sucks being labeled as “that guy” but I’d rather be “that guy” and have a bunch of “that guy-s” for friends than be the chump who just laughs awkwardly at something they KNOW is wrong.

-James Robilotta