Networking Wallflowers

 yellow wallflowers

I love flowers. 

I love how they brighten up a room just by existing. And wallflowers are particularly beautiful, being so determined to shine subtly from amongst the blandness of the grey rock or rust-coloured bricks they are so often surrounded by… 

Ok so that’s not quite how others see them, but it’s how I see them. πŸ˜‰

Then you have the idiom ‘wallflower’, as described on Wikipedia..

"A wallflower is someone with an introverted personality type (or in more extreme cases, social anxiety) who will attend parties and social gatherings, but will usually distance themselves from the crowd and actively avoid being in the limelight.

The name itself derives from the eponymous plant's unusual growth pattern against a wall as a stake or in cracks and gaps in stone walls. 'Wallflowers' might literally stand against a wall and simply observe others at a social gathering, rather than mingle. This could be due to anxiety, shyness, lack of social skills or self-esteem."

Sigh… I think I need spend some quality time updating Wikipedia pages instead of standing against walls at social events.. 

Look, I won’t deny having clung to the outskirts of the room when I’ve turned up somewhere and didn’t know anyone, or if it’s getting later in the night and I’m all talked out, or in my more recent sobriety, everyone's had a few 🍺🍷🍸πŸ₯‚, and heading down the ‘telling the same story for the 5th time in an hour' road, and I just can’t muster up the energy to laugh at it convincingly again.

And sometimes I am actually more in the mood to observe the networking than take part in it. Watch

  • the sparks of innovation, 
  • the joy of connection, 
  • the recognition of old friends, 
  • and the possibilities of new collaborations.

So when I heard someone a number of years ago tell a large room full of women, as the final comments of an event which was specifically (and ironically) aimed at ‘helping women be more confident’, that we should all “pull those little introverted wallflowers out of the corners of the room and introduce them to everyone”, I nearly choked on the sausage roll I hadn’t even eaten yet! 

shocked face introvert
Then there was rousing applause for the suggestion, further enhancing my fears that either I had been somehow duped into a room made up entirely of extroverts, or that all the other introverts in the room were

  • in denial of their personality type, 
  • or unaware of their personality type, and still trying to grin and bear it, and ‘be like everyone else’ 
  • or, they were too afraid to speak up and say that if someone dared do that to them, they would be extremely uncomfortable, and potentially never go back to another event (or leave the house!). 

There is a big difference between being asked if you would like to be introduced to some people, and the suggestion that you need to be dragged (kicking and screaming? Yes, very probably, in my case) into the middle of the room and (forcibly) introduced to ‘everyone’… 

Sounds like a nightmare, right?! Well, so was my attempt to explain to the ‘someone’ that I was high offended at their suggestion. 

I tried to do it in a non-confrontational way, but I’m not going to lie - I was pretty fired up, so there’s a good possibility that I did not handle that conversation in my usual bright, breezy, collaborative manner… 🀭🀣🀣

But the interaction stuck with me for a very long time afterwards, as I, in my own way of dealing with confrontation, really wanted to understand if I could or should have handled it differently. I decided in the end that it wasn't about my handling of it, it was about how it was received. Which I have no control over - I just think the person was both surprised and offended that I didn't appreciate what they thought was 'doing us a favour'.

To this day, I tell this story to people when I feel it's relevant and necessary, to try to help them understand what networking is really like for introverts - we wouldn't be there if we didn't want to meet people, but we want to do it in our own time or in our own way.
 

Strike up a conversation with us if you genuinely want to help - 1 to 1 is our favourite way to start off a good interaction - then, once you have taken the time to listen and find out a bit about us, think carefully about who you know in the room that might be a good connection for us, and ask if we'd like to be introduced. Forced small talk is our nemesis - it literally drains our energy/ battery power faster than you can say 'kryptonite'!

So if all this blog post achieves is to let a few people know how to interact better with 'wallflowers' at an event, then it's a mic drop from me - my good deed done for the day!

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