In many ways, our generation is more relational than any that’s come before us. I have more than a thousand friends on Facebook, hundreds of followers on Twitter, and Instagram buddies in 43 different states.
But as I was recently reminded, interaction through social media hardly prepares us for real-life relationships. The other day I interviewed someone fresh out of college for a position at my startup. She had all the ideal qualifications on paper: Great schooling, great grades and great social media presence. But I knew five minutes into the interview that I couldn’t hire her, and here’s why: she couldn’t talk to me. She failed to make small talk, she pulled out her phone five minutes into the interview to text someone, and she never made eye contact.
In work and business, so much of our success is based on strong relationships with other people, and I’m not talking about commenting on someone’s Facebook status. Real-life interaction can be the key to a thriving business. Here are 10 ways to build better relationships in your professional career … and they just might help your personal life, too.
1. Be a Good Listener
This doesn’t just mean hearing what a person is saying. It means reacting and sharing. Maybe you have some advice, or maybe you’ve been in a similar situation and can empathize. Perhaps you just want this person to know that you hear them and care about their problem. If you find your brain wandering away from the conversation, pull yourself back as quickly as possible.
2. Ask Smart Questions
Asking questions is a great way to remain engaged in a conversation, and it’s something people really respond to. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. This can help you in business, too, as picking someone’s brain may ignite ideas about your own business or solutions to problems you’ve had at work.
3. Always Follow Up
Of course, you should know to send a “thank you” note after you’ve interviewed for a job, but don’t stop there. When you meet someone at a business function, say a Chamber of Commerce lunch, be sure to get their card and send them an e-mail saying how nice it was to meet them and how you’d love to follow up on some of the things you chatted about. For example, if someone suggested pursuing a collaboration between your two businesses, get on the phone and make it happen.
4. Don’t Be Rude
This one should kind of go without saying, right? But too many times we’re rude without even realizing it. Never take out your smartphone to text, tweet or Snapchat while you’re talking with someone. Ignore the insistent ping telling you about a new e-mail. You’ll live without checking your inbox the moment it’s delivered. It’s rude not to give someone your full attention while talking.
5. Don’t Take People for Granted
Does a secretary bring you tea every morning? Did the janitor pick up the lanyard your niece made for you that was sitting on the ground before he vacuumed? Make sure to offer thanks to those people who make your life a little easier. It’s kind, and it sets up goodwill for the future.
6. Befriend the New Guy
Coming into a company can be hard, and it’s even harder at a small startup, where most people are longtime friends. If you hire someone new, ask them to lunch and be sure they come along for drinks after work. You may find a new ally or a new friend.
7. Make Eye Contact
Nothing drove my mom crazier when I was in college than when I brought home a friend who stared at the floor every time he or she answered a question. Lack of eye contact can be a sign of low confidence or disengagement. Don’t fall victim to either of these, and never let yourself project them during an interview.
8. Compliment, but Don’t Flatter
There’s no greater turnoff than someone offering you false praise. A vendor once congratulated me on my “really great use of punctuation in the e-mail [I] sent.” If you’re going to offer a compliment, make it sincere. People can tell if you’re just making things up to try to get business.
9. Write Letters
Anyone can dash off an e-mail or a social media post, but a letter is personalized. It takes time and shows effort. It’s certainly a lost art form during these digital times, and if you can take the time to write one, it will be remembered and appreciated by whoever receives it.
10. Be a Fixer-Upper
Know two people whose businesses could benefit each other? Don’t be afraid to set them up. Looking out for others is a great way to bolster your own connections and also to help other people, which is a reward in itself.
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