Whether I’m conducting an industry expert interview, leading a focus group, or out in the world meeting people at a conference, what I want to do – personally and professionally – is connect with people. It’s my goal to have at least one conversation with everyone on the planet because, as Sarah York, the author of The Holy Intimacy of Strangers writes, “As the world shrinks and we grow more conscious of ourselves as citizens of a global village, our need for the experience of human bonding expands.” But in order to authentically connect with people – to build strong relationships with colleagues, customers, clients, friends, and family, you have to do more than click “connect” or “add friend.” Here are five ways to build stronger professional and personal connections.
Put the Phone Down
At a large industry conference recently, I was looking forward to networking with the other professional women I was sitting with, but every one of them spent the entire time we were sitting together on their cell phones. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they were connecting with each other online. We want to share contact information – it’s great to have it for staying connected, but the best way to connect with someone you’re sitting with is doing it face to face, live and in person, with eye contact. Please, let’s put our phones down and interact with each other face to face. We don’t need a “put your phone down day.” That day is every day.
Pick the Phone Up
Texting and emails and slacking are great – I don’t remember life without them. Please let’s not have phone calls go the way of mail and cards. When I receive an email from a client or friend with news – good or bad – I always pick up the phone and call them. Saying congratulations, sharing news, and empathizing are beautiful sounds. The other day I sent a few clients a newsy email; my favorite response from them all was the sound of my phone ringing and the joy in the voice of the person on the other end. When we call people and they hear the warmness in our voices, we strengthen the connection we have with that person. Who are you going to call today?
We need to be professional and respectful with everyone, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be personally engaged. Bring your personality and your whole self with you. Talk about what interests you – food, travel, music, art, your pets, your favorite books and Netflix series – and your favorite things. Ask each other questions. Ask for advice. Tell a story about something that inspires you, something new that you’ve learned. When we bring our whole selves, our curiosity, and our willingness to learn and share, we find common interests and beautiful connections.
It takes two
Relationships are built on give and take – and that begins with establishing a dialogue. I like what David Bohm, author of Dialogue – A Proposal, writes: “Suspension of thoughts, impulses, judgments, etc., lies at the very heart of dialogue.” Bohm gives us insight into power and purpose dialogue has to connect us; he says, “The spirit of Dialogue is one of free play, a sort of collective dance of the mind that, nevertheless, has immense power and reveals coherent purpose. Once begun it becomes a continuing adventure that can open the way to significant and creative change. Bohm offers a communication roadmap to help us develop our dialogue with others.
It takes time
As Warren Buffet once said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Building strong relationships requires similar effort and foresight. Lasting connections take time to build. They start with a half-hour conversation on the bus up to the ski resort, an hour on the phone talking about innovation, a couple of meetings to find the right opportunity to collaborate. And our relationships continue and flourish when we stay committed and strengthen the connection.
We all benefit from building connections that turn strangers into friends. It’s easy enough to begin – just say hello.