This week, reminders of Valentine’s Day and the relationship expectations it brings were unavoidable. Depending on who you are, this time of year can be filled with promise or fraught with despair. Either is a good excuse for chocolate – heart-shaped or otherwise.
Not so coincidentally, there was a flurry of messages pushing and promising a love connection at your fingertips, someone waiting just for you in the world of online dating. With fairly identical business models, matchmaking sites have leveraged our human need for personal connection into a $700 million industry that now boasts a whopping 20 percent share of successful online meetings leading to long-term in-person relationships. Of those, 24 percent are said to lead to marriage.
No doubt about it, technology has changed the way we meet people, form relationships, share information, and in general, conduct our personal lives from the privacy of an online connection.
Likewise, technology has changed the way we form business relationships. We are no longer constrained by proximity. Our reach is infinite. We can engage anyone, anywhere without leaving the office. And unlike online dating, the goal need never include meeting our business matches in order to take the relationship to the next level. Trust, communication and friendship are all virtually attainable and sustainable.
Defining Business Relationships
The kinds of business relationships we form generally fall into three categories:
Mentor – find one / be one. We all need guidance as we build our careers, and, once experienced, should be willing to provide guidance for others.
Colleague – building relationships with others in similar and complimentary businesses can only help us. From simply commiserating with peers, to making connections with potential collaborators, business and careers benefit when we talk to each other.
Available Talent – actively building a pool of talented professionals we can engage when projects call for out-sourcing or staffing up is a valuable use of our time. This group can be cultivated from mentoring relationships.
Courting Business Contacts
While the goals of our business relationships are different, the guidelines for initiating and sustaining them are quite similar to those for online dating.
Save yourself, and potential contacts, from trying to be something you’re not. It’s exhausting and will end a relationship when you’re found out. You will be found out.
When you’re initiating contact, talk about the other’s accomplishments and why you’re reaching out. Ask leading questions, and learn about the person behind the achievements.
Be friendly, not familiar
This is a tough distinction for some. If you wonder what the difference is, do a quick gut check before talking/typing – would you say that to your mother? Friendly is warm and open, familiar is disrespectful and off-putting. Think TMI.
Maintain your circle of integrity
We all have one. And we are at our strongest when operating within that circle, working with people who share our values. Simply put, understand the values and behaviors that define you, and don’t compromise them.
Online or offline?
Both. In business, meeting is not essential to building trust, business, and even friendship. You will, however, want to move quickly from typing to talking so that your exchanges can benefit from tone of voice. If proximity allows, it can be a nice break to meet outside of the office.
Even though there is never enough time in the day, it’s important to carve some out to build and maintain relationships. Human interaction is essential for our wellbeing. With evolving technologies, our options for social engagement increase, but the basic needs are the same. The quality of our lives, personal and professional, is exponentially augmented by our relationships.