Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best
When you are given an opportunity to meet an interesting person, don’t be shy, even if you are shy. I’m kind of shy, but I’ve meet CEOs, diplomats and technology leaders, and some of them are now my mentors and friends. They would be neither if I hadn’t made the effort to meet them and talk with them. Relationship building is an active, not passive activity.
Sure, a lot of your encounters are brief, and you may not get to do much more than say hello, but sometimes, you get to have a leisurely breakfast or a deep conversation ahead of a presentation, or the opportunity for a chat over a glass of wine at the end of a day. But you know what? If you are standing shyly on the side, not approaching a person to at least say hello, none of those things is ever going to happen … unless you are the interesting person and people come over to you. Yes, that is a bit of extra advice: you are an interesting person and if you are confident and open, people will want to know you.
To be honest, I don’t do well when I’m in a big group— I find in big groups all of our defenses are up—and that’s not where I connect best. So I have learned to not only master my shyness when in big crowds, but also to not be bashful in reaching out to people I already know at conferences and get myself invited to dinners, for instance, where I can really talk to people. In a smaller setting, over time, everybody can get comfortable and we become more vulnerable — and that is when we really start having a conversation, when we really start getting to know each other.
Some readers may be comfortable in other situations. If that is true, then you should try to find a way to bring yourself into those situations more often. That is where you will learn best.