Building relationships is rarely easy, even before huge portions of the workforce were quarantined and working remotely. In this dawn of teleworking for the foreseeable future, however, relationship building can seem nearly impossible. On one hand, it inherently feels artificial when every interaction is conducted digitally. And on the other hand, our new reality is forcing workers at every level to reevaluate priorities, restructure their daily lives, and settle into something akin to routine, balance and sanity.
So how do we even hope to build new relationships or strengthen existing bonds in these unprecedented times?
For years, we’ve built our principled approach to negotiations on a foundation of core human values — empathy, understanding and finding common ground. With today’s new challenges, these values are more important than ever.
The health and wellbeing of everyone around the world should be the foremost priority of every business and every individual, and we must support each other. As a country, this is critical; as companies and teams, it is essential to our survival. Countries can survive tumultuous upheavals, shell-shocked but intact. Businesses, on the other hand, risk disappearing.
Whether you are a brand navigating this new environment or a professional facing the prospect of telework, unemployment or a confusing gray area between the two, the show must go on — we must continue to build relationships, and we must make it out of this intact, together. Failure is not an option.
Following are four simple, effective practices for you to follow as you build and maintain relationships at this time.
1. Maintain a Virtual Presence.
It’s 2020. Odds are, you already have an online identity. As a professional, you likely have a LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or some combination therein. If you are on the pioneering edge, you may also have Tik Tok, Reddit and more. As a brand, you likely have a corporate website in addition to a selection of social profiles.
So, what do you do with them right now?
First, now is not the time to create a new identity or start a new channel. Unless you have identified a massive gap in the landscape that you can uniquely fill, stick to what you know best.
Second, review your profiles and decide where to invest most of your time. As you balance other priorities, the last thing you need is to juggle five disparate social profiles. We recommend picking one to invest in and, if you can’t decide which, we recommend showing some love to your LinkedIn. Social bonds are extremely critical but posting to Facebook or tweeting likely isn’t the best way to maintain connections with your loved ones (seriously, call your parents, family and friends — don’t just text).
While the purpose of LinkedIn is typically to share the value you bring to your company, customers and marketplace, we advise updating your profile to include a note or two about your life outside of the office. It humanizes you beyond your qualifications, endorsements and credentials. And we will say it time and time again — humans build relationships with other humans, not brands and logos.
I recently updated my LinkedIn profile, for example, to let my network know I play and coach pickleball. I’ve written a book about pickleball. If you know the game, I’ve now earned some instant credibility within the pickleball community; if you don’t know the game, we now have something to talk about.
In addition to updating your profile to add some human elements, here are a few quick things you can do to maintain your presence and connect with others:
- Write an article. Many users worry they aren’t qualified or their opinion won’t matter. But sharing an article is an easy, safe way to showcase your values and passions. It can be about your business, a book you read, personal development or plans for 2020. As long as it matters to you, it is worth sharing.
- Participate actively. Too many self-proclaimed thought leaders share articles or content but never engage and respond. Many times, the value comes in comments and sharing in the voices of others. Add value to the LinkedIn community by offering your own insight, hot take, opinion or key takeaway. Your activity will ripple and grow faster than you think.
- Give recommendations and ask for some, too. Look back on your closest business relationships in the past 12 months and share some love by providing thoughtful, formal recommendations for their profiles. Likewise, reach out to some of those same individuals and ask if they have a moment to do the same for you. Their voices can give your profile a significant boost in credibility.
2. Be Personable.
Taking a step back from social media and your curation of a virtual presence, one of the most important things to remember right now is that everyone is anxious. Everyone has some degree of fear or uncertainty, and no one is immune. One of our core pillars of principled negotiation is empathy, and it matters now more than ever.
Empathy is something within you. It’s a feeling we engage in when we put ourselves in others’ shoes. We view the world through their eyes and recognize something about their attitudes or feelings. Communicating from an empathetic space allows for enhanced personability.
In short, being “personable” is:
- Sharing a bit of your life with others. Vulnerability can be tough; we aren’t asking you to jump on the next conference call and bare your fears and anxieties to your team. What we do recommend is sharing some glimpses of your life in small ways that add human elements to your professional relationships. For example, I live with a wonderful pup. Ahead of every call or video, I say something like, “I just want to let everyone know I’m working from home with my dog, so if the mailman comes by, I may need to mute myself quickly. I apologize in advance!” Usually when I share this glimpse into my life, others will either ask more about my dog or share something about their own work-from-home environment.
- Asking questions and showing genuine interest. Too obvious? Think again. Now, more than ever, it is critical for us to look out for our colleagues, teams, friends and communities. Most people joining a call will engage in idle small-talk while waiting for the meeting to start. Often, this includes some variation of “How is everyone doing?” In one-on-one conversations, this question can be so important. Especially in negotiations, it could be a make-or-break for how things proceed. So, let the question breathe, pause to listen, and by all means ask a follow-up if appropriate before diving into the details of the meeting.
3. Keep Written Communications Brief.
Have you ever opened an email only to see a block of text with no end in sight? Of course you have. And it probably crushed your interest and enthusiasm.
When writing, keep your purpose top of mind and use it to evaluate the information you choose to include. This is more critical than ever when reaching out to new connections to build a relationship — they will appreciate the brevity and are more likely to respond. Try these quick tips:
- Highlight a connection. Did you work somewhere similar? Share a former colleague? Attend rival schools? Highlighting not only shows common ground, but that you took the time to get to know them.
- Brevity! Keep initial outreach to five sentences or less. Make the points and move on. It’s about respect.
- Quality > quantity. Sales may be about numbers, but relationships are not. Avoid copy-and-paste messages and make efforts to personalize every note.
- Know your audience. There is another human at the receiving end of your message. So be personable (see above) yet professional and respect their current situation. Sometimes knowing your audience means acknowledging the unknowns in their messy life. If you don’t get the response you hoped for, let them know you understand you’re not currently a priority of theirs but that you would like to connect and that you will try back in a few weeks.
4. Make Time to Prioritize Relationships.
Somehow, the initial move to remote work for most organizations resulted in even more meetings. Conversations that would typically happen informally are often scheduled now, and calls can stack up. While we cannot always control the workflow within an organization, we can make efforts to structure and control our own calendars as best as possible. This includes making time for relationships.
“Making time” does not have to mean scheduling an hour to do yoga and meditate, though it certainly can. There are a couple small steps you can make to prioritize relationships and the people in your life every day:
- Make an agenda. If you are in control, structure the time to respect the people who are joining. Personally, I make sure calls (including conference calls) include five minutes at the beginning of the call to ask how everyone is doing, how COVID-19 is impacting them and if they are coping well. Sometimes people vent, sometimes they share openly and sometimes they pass. What matters is having that space to choose.
- Check your engagement levels. Remote work (and the technology that enables it) can be distracting. It’s easy to look out the window and lose your train of thought or check your mounting inbox of emails while someone is talking in your ear. Remaining engaged is an essential way to build a relationship and ensure each call ends on a positive note. Try ending with a Q&A period or get in the habit of recapping what you heard. When possible, adding video to a call can keep everyone engaged while adding a personal touch.
Building relationships during this time starts, as it always has, with you. But there is one more truth I beg you not to forget — you are not alone. Let’s keep building together.