Effective Networking (Profiling)

by Darius Kazemi on January 2, 2006

in breakingin,conversation,networking

Note: This is part of a series of articles called Effective Networking in the Games Industry. I’m writing these articles in no particular order, so I’m sorry if this seems scattered. I promise I will collect it all and put it on my permanent webspace for future reference.

I already wrote about the importance of making a striking first impression. Equally important is the ability to profile a person: that is, the ability to accurately extract as much information as you possibly can from a first impression. I’ll say right now that I’m not an expert on this topic, which is best exemplified in the media by crazy TV detectives. People have written rather long books on the topic of profiling, but the problem with long books is that you can’t remember what was on page 274 while you’re being introduced to someone over breakfast. What I’m going to do is break down the act of profiling, for the purposes of networking, into something so simple (and oversimplified) that you’ll be able to use it wherever you go.

The Talker/Listener Axis

Let’s say you’ve just been introduced to someone. We’ll call her Jane. Your very first task is to figure out whether she likes to talk, or whether she likes to listen.

Wait a minute.

I hope you caught my mistake up there. The world at large is not built of dichotomies, and no single person is a talker or a listener. (If you ever do meet someone who only does one or the other, I guarantee you that it’s okay to run very far away, as that person is certainly not worth knowing.) Almost everyone likes to talk about themselves. Almost everyone likes to hear a good story. The question is how much of each activity Jane likes to experience. First I’ll explain how to deal with the three basic talker/listener configurations, and then I’ll explain how to spot them.

Three Kinds of People

If Jane is like most people, I’d place her at about 50/50 on the talker/listener scale. This means that when you speak to her one on one, you should keep a rough mental count of how long you’ve spent talking to her. If you’ve been speaking for two minutes, and you’ve come to an okay stopping point in your conversation, sit back and let her talk for a while. Only start looking for ways to cut in after about two minutes have elapsed.

Then again, Jane might be a talker, say 70/30. Talkers are incredibly easy to please. Just. Shut. Up. And. Listen. Keep in mind that “shut up” and “listen” are two distinct skills. The former involves keeping your mouth closed and not emitting any noises. Shutting up is largely a passive skill. Listening, on the other hand, is by all means an active skill, that can be broken down into three parts:

  • comprehending what someone is saying
  • indicating to him or her that you comprehend
  • encouraging the talker to keep on talking

A lot of people practice the first two points, but totally miss out on the third. The best way to practice the third point is to ask a lot of pertinent questions. Let’s say Jane has been talking about her latest project, a serious game funded by the U.S. government. Let’s say she also mentioned, just before you were formally introduced, that she got back from a skydiving trip with her husband. It would be a good move to ask her if she’s considered doing a game to train paratroopers. Or maybe you could pull on your general knowledge of the serious games industry and ask if she thinks the market is saturated, or perhaps if she thinks defense contractors will start hiring game developers, or really anything at all that will allow her to impart her wisdom to you. Because she’s a talker: keep feeding her talking points, and she’ll love you for it.

The most difficult personality to deal with is the 30/70 listener. Listeners can be divided into two basic categories: those who listen because they are truly interested, and those who listen because they’re shy. So if Jane is a listener, your first goal is to determine whether or not she’s interested or shy. Interested listeners are great, because the only pressure on you is to think of interesting things to say. And if you’re educated, memorable, and do interesting things—well then, you’re pretty much made in the shade. If Jane is a shy listener, things are much tougher. You don’t want to pressure her into talking, because that will make her completely shut down, conversationally. But you don’t want to talk too much, because you’ll come off as a jerk. A one-on-one situation with a shy listener can be very difficult, and only other advice I can give for that kind of situation is to tread carefully, and to be as empathetic as you possibly can. A lot of the times, larger groups are better for shy listeners, as you can draw them into a larger conversation where they feel less pressure and you’re less likely to look like a dominating bully.

How to Detect the Three Kinds of People

Okay, how do I come up with these numbers for people? I don’t, really. The numbers are fudged. I actually keep a normal distribution graph in my head and just slide people around. Don’t panic! It’s not as complicated as it sounds. I promise.

As I said before, most people are 50/50 on the talker/listener axis. I made a graph of the bell curve, just to elucidate my point.

Playing the straight probabilities, when you meet somebody you should approach them as though they’re right in the middle. Most of the time, you’ll be right.

But in the first five minutes of conversation, you should be looking for signs. If while you’re talking the person looks impatient, or is constantly interrupting you, visualize the bell curve in your head and start sliding that person to the left more and more. You should change your conversational tactics to the talker ones I mentioned above, namely shutting up and listening for larger and larger portions of the conversation as the person continues to slide to the left on your mental chart. If you’re having trouble getting more than a few words out of the person, or you see their face turning red, slide them to the right, mark them as shy, and adjust accordingly. If there’s a lot of head nodding and smiling, and the person asks you pertinent questions, then you have an interested listener on your hands! Slide to the right and bask in the glory of your own fascinating personality, you ham!

This might all seem pretty complicated. But the easiest thing to do is to ask questions. It’s like Dr. Gregory House says: “Everyone looks smarter when they’re asking the questions. It’s infinitely preferable to the blank stare of the person trying to answer.”

I also just found this useful article by Marty Nemko on how to tell if you talk too much. The traffic light system for keeping track of your own talking seems pretty useful.

Why Go Through the Trouble?

When you accurately profile someone as a talker or a listener, you are engaging them in the way that they would like to be engaged. And that’s a fantastic way to make friends—which is what networking is really all about.


Craig Perko January 2, 2006 at 10:36 pm

This is an interesting method. It could be very useful for many people. I tend to do a “live” watching – I don’t assume anything, I simply react to what their faces show. I do this primarily because sometimes I’m a talker, sometimes I’m a listener. Therefore, I assume other people will vary from hour to hour as well.

My skill at doing this is questionable, though…

David Midgley October 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm

OK, but then how are they supposed to know what type of person _you_ are? :) Isn’t there some benefit to being talkative if you’re a talkative person, or listening more if you’re a shy person, and hoping the other person does the same? Then you’ll genuinely either be a good fit or not, and you won’t have to think to yourself every time you see each specific contact — “Now who am I going to be for this conversation?”

I know, I know, it’s networking…

Darius Kazemi October 20, 2011 at 7:23 am

I think most people will naturally tend toward whatever they are, so I don’t need to give them any advice on that.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: