Hell is other people.

All right, maybe old Jean-Paul Sartre was ever-so-slightly melodramatic, but there are days where I believe that maxim with all my heart. Group settings leave me feeling like the awkward kid as a middle school dance. You know the one, hugging the walls and taking an inordinate amount of interest in the punch bowl. Where do you start to break into those tightly knit clusters? How do you butt into those laughing groups of people who have obviously known each other for years?

There are ways, and sometimes I force myself to do it. After all, that’s how most people network best–certainly it’s the way my boss does it. But different people form relationships in different ways. No matter how well I act, no matter how well I try to convince myself that I like those mingling networking events, I know in my heart of hearts I’m not representing myself or my employer in the best way. But does that mean that I get to hide behind a computer screen and never make it into the light of day? No. But I’ve found other ways that work for me.

Many introverts, myself included, find it’s much easier to be ourselves and form tight, productive relationships in smaller, more intimate settings. It allows you to build a relationship slowly, getting to know the person beyond the superficiality of exchanging business cards. It helps you genuinely learn about the other person, understand their strengths and weaknesses and the services they can really provide, as well as gives you a looking glass into their character. And because people do business with people they like, once you better understand who your networking partner really is, you can begin to send each other higher quality referrals and trust each other as resources and friends.

If you’re also that weird wallflower at the high school dance, keep trying. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone when you can. But don’t be afraid to fall back on what works for you. Talk to people on social media and invite them out for a quiet cup of coffee or a drink. Get together smaller groups of people and build tightly knit referral circles. You might be surprised at the results.

Interested in learning more about taking online networking into the real world? I’ll be presenting with my friend (and networking partner) Randy Clark of TKOGraphix at the East Central Indiana Social Media Group on April 19. For more information or to register, check out ECI SM. Or, you know, if big gatherings aren’t your thing, drop me a line. Let’s grab coffee.