This is a guest post by Katrina Razavi.
It was late at night one night in Silicon Valley when I arrived back at my motel.
I had just returned from a networking event earlier in the evening in the San Francisco Bay Area.
At the event, I had been standing on the perimeter of a large conference room watching other people talk. I must have looked horribly uncomfortable and out of place.
Finally, another entrepreneur spotted how uncomfortable I was, approached me, and engaged me in conversation.
I had recently formed a new startup — Marriage.com. The opportunity was exciting but I realized that if I wanted that business to go anywhere I would have to confront my fears – I would have to overcome my own inner introvert.
We had just figured out our go-to-market strategy for the business but we had NO money to execute it. We needed to raise angel capital quickly since my co-founder and I had quit our jobs to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams.
I realized that I couldn’t stand around and wait for others to approach me. I had to take some initiative.
I started analyzing why I was so scared to approach people and realized I was psyching myself out! I was constantly telling myself that I was a phony or a fake.
That night after the networking event, right there in that motel room, I made a commitment to change my mentality. To change my negative frame into a positive one and to suppress my own fear. I made a commitment to get out of my own head and to start making solid connections and start building a network.
A few months later, we had $100,000 in the bank from angel investors in our own network.
Why Introverts Need to Get Better at Building Relationships
In the last eight years, I have started my own company, raised capital, sold that business, been a founding team member through two acquisitions, and have worked for five different companies as a result.
Throughout all those different experiences there’s one common denominator — I got access to all those opportunities through people I knew.
Building a great network takes a lot of work, and before I started my own company I was a self-described introvert who didn’t like meeting new people.
I was deathly afraid of networking events and putting myself out there, but I quickly learned that I had to improve my social skills in order to succeed.
Even if you don’t have your own business, social skills are important. Surveys have shown that social skills play a more important role in your success than your competence.
Tiziana Casciaro, professor at Harvard Business School, says “How we value competence changes depending on whether we like someone or not.”
Today, I want to share the lessons I learned to transform myself from an introvert into a networking ninja. I will give you the exact action items you can take to improve your communication skills and start creating the network you want.
Lesson #1: Be Comfortable with yourself
This is the hardest part of developing social skills. If you’re like me and consider yourself an introvert, it can be terrifying to put yourself out there.
As I mentioned, before I started Marriage.com, I hated going to networking events, being one of a handful of females and having to approach people to tell them about myself and my idea.
I took pride in being a “private” person, so laying it all out there was terrifying.
Once I got out of my own head, I was able to make solid connections and start building a network. Which led to the angel investments.
I learned that it’s really important to be comfortable with your SELF. That means you don’t compare yourself to others, you’re not always trying to sell yourself or your idea, and you can take constructive criticism without taking it personally.
If you are not comfortable with your SELF, fix that first. Changing your self-perception alone can naturally improve your communication skills.
How to start being comfortable with your SELF in 3 steps:
One of the most powerful books I’ve read recently is The Power of Habit (referral link) by Charles Duhigg. I’ve implemented his method for changing habits to do things from exercising more to changing my mental habits.
It’s so important to have habits that serve you. “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort,” write Duhigg. “Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit.
This means that good or bad habits can become easily hardwired into our brain.
The first thing you have to do before even trying to improve your social skills is work on improving your self-perception. You do this by creating positive mental habits.
I want to deep dive into each of the facets of the habit loop as it pertains to your mental habits and relationship-building.
There are three parts to the habit loop: cue, routine and reward.
Step 1. Identify the cues
We are performing habits all day long without realizing it. What is going on in our minds is also a habit. Your life satisfaction depends on the types of mental habits you have.
So the first thing you need to do is IDENTIFY what cues negative thoughts.
- Is it right after you make a tiny mistake that you start beating yourself up over it?
- Is it the first thing you think when you wake up?
- Have you gotten in the habit of telling yourself what a crappy day it will be before it even starts?
It’s important to identify the cues that trigger bad mental habits because it does two things:
- First, it forces you to develop some self-awareness– This self-awareness will PAY DIVIDENDS when you’re working on your social skills. Do you ever find yourself in a social situation where someone is rambling…but they have no idea they’re doing it?! That will never be you because you’ll be self-aware.
- Secondly, it forces you to analyze yourself- Consciously trying to uncover WHY or WHEN you think negatively is probably something you’ve never really tried to do in a meaningful way. So make it count. Write it down. Record the time of day, how you felt, where you were and whom you were with. Be honest with yourself.
Step 2. Change the Routine
Once you’ve identified the cues, you will become aware of them and can better plan on changing the routine.
This is where we’re going to change that negative self-talk into positive self-talk.
The key concept here is that you must transform your negative vocabulary of “can’t, impossible, scared, unsure, afraid” into affirming words that will help you take action.
Another thing that many people who struggle with social skills mention is the constant habit of worry, which is another symptom of negative self-talk.
Always worrying about what others will say, what will happen next? etc. It’s easier said than done, but you have to train your mind to shut up! Here’s why:
- If you can’t train your mind to shut up you won’t be able to effectively communicate, because you’re only going to be consumed with worry about what the other person is thinking of you. By training your mind to stop the chatter and just think positively (or on them), you’ll have a much better shot at socializing like a normal person.
- If your mind is busy worrying, you will not be an active listener– Have you ever noticed that you really enjoy speaking to people who actively listen and ask good questions? People love being listened to, so if you are only worrying you can’t actively participate in a conversation.
Stop being selfish and focus on them. Rather than worrying about what other people think of YOU, focus on the words the other person is saying.
Turn their words into images so you can truly engage in the conversation. Occupy your mind with these images, rather than the negative self-talk going in your head.
For more detailed tactics on changing your negative self-talk and improving your mental model, check out this post that has more detailed tips. You have to stop beating yourself up and start taking positive action!
Step 3. Reward yourself
Every time you positively transform your habits, don’t forget to reward yourself with something that you truly like.
It may be a latte, an hour of guilt-free TV watching or treating yourself to a nice dinner. In order to positively reinforce these new habit changes, you have to reward yourself to hardwire them in your brain.
Lesson #2: Be comfortable being uncomfortable
Have you ever felt like you were the odd man or woman out? I have.
Try being the only female sitting at a poker table (having never even played before) with 8 other male online entrepreneurs who have multi-million dollar businesses. I’ve been there and yes, it was SUPER uncomfortable.
A friend of mine, David, hosted weekly poker games at his mansion in LA and invited me. To be frank, I really wanted to say “no” because I had no idea how to play poker but I took a chance and said “yes!”
Well, some of those people at the poker table ended up being really important advisors to marriage.com.
One of the poker players was kind enough to invite me to quarterly dinners he hosted to bring together even more powerful entrepreneurs!
Those dinners were even more intimidating, but because I had already gotten over being uncomfortable at the poker table, I didn’t have a hard time getting over it at the dinner table.
Have you ever been invited to something where you said, “yes” with extreme hesitation, but afterwards felt so glad you did it? That’s how I felt at first, but saying that first “yes” allowed me to meet important people who helped shape my career path.
How to get comfortable being uncomfortable in 3 steps:
Step 1: Connect with Connectors
David was one of those people who knew everyone and was always connecting like-minded people. He knew what each person in his network did and always genuinely did his best to help them out.
I encourage you to connect with people like him. I’m sure you know a few “Davids’” in your network. Find them, build a genuine relationship, and take notes from them. Start off by trying to help that person.
Step 2: Say “Yes”
In the beginning, get in the habit of saying yes to meeting new people and being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is a muscle that has to be exercised just like willpower and concentration.
The more times you expose yourself to uncomfortable situations, the better you will become at adapting to them.
Step 3: Remember, people are people
We are all human. We all screw up, make mistakes, and make bad jokes!
I can guarantee you will never be interacting with a perfect person. Just because someone has more money or a better job than you does not make them superhuman, so don’t psyche yourself out.
Lesson #3: Not asking means the answer is no
While I was getting my MBA part-time I took an internship at an e-commerce startup called Shopflick during the day.
It was my first foray into the online world and I was hooked. I started as an intern and worked my way up to leading business development for them. I was hungry to work hard, learn, and get sh** done.
A few years later, I found myself back on the job market, so I emailed Dan, the former co-founder/CPO of Shopflick. I had kept up in touch with him throughout the years and within a few days we hopped on a call and he described a job at his new company that wasn’t even advertised yet.
He thought I could actually be a good fit, so he invited me to come in for some interviews. I was worried because the role included managing major corporate clients with a combined market cap of over $1 billion…. something I’d never done in my life.
Within a week, I was hired and I got a $31k salary bump.
The point is that it’s important to add value and always work hard, but you also have to ask.
Think about it, not asking is the equivalent of an immediate “no.” You never know if you don’t ask, so ask graciously and you’ll be surprised how many people will help.
How to ask in 4 steps:
Step 1: Do great work
I can’t stress how important it is to always do great work; doing so will leave a lasting impression on those you’ve worked with. Always work hard and believe in what you’re working on.
VIP’s love connecting with people who do great work. The harder you work, the less important the following steps become.
Step 2: Keep in touch with people regularly
If you want an ROI from your network, you have to be the first to invest in it. You can do this by remembering personal information about people in your network, introducing like-minded people, and just keeping in touch.
Here are a few tips:
- Remember names of spouse/kids
- Birthdays and holidays- reach out with a written note to really stand out
- Company press – is the company they’re at in the news? That’s a great reason to reach out and send a congratulatory note.
Step 3: Ask tactfully
Here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind before you ask for help:
- Can this person help me with what I need help with?
- Is my “ask” clear, specific, and concise?
- Is there a “call to action” in the email?
- Am I making it as easy as possible for this person to help me? (i.e. should I include a blurb that can be copy/pasted)
Step 4: Be willing to contribute
Don’t forget to be an investor first. If you feel comfortable enough to ask, you should also feel comfortable being asked and willing to help. Remember, helping others always goes a long way.
Social skills and building a solid network are invaluable in advancing your career or business. You can begin creating the network you’ve always wanted if you build positive mental habits, get comfortable being uncomfortable, and ask when you need help.
Finally, I’d love to hear some of your experiences when it comes to working on your communication skills. What strategies have worked well for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Katrina Razavi is the former founder of Marriage.com. If you’re a self-described introvert looking to improve your communication skills, visit communicationfornerds.com and get your free e-book: 5 Quick Hacks to Avoid Awkward Conversations.
Picture credit for The Habit Loop image: The Emotion Machine.