Remember how easy it was to make friends on the playground?
Someone would ask to take turns on the swings or ask if they could join the soccer game, and that was basically it—you were best friends.
Building and maintaining a professional network isn’t like that at all.
Staying connected and developing professional relationships takes time, work, and strategy. If you’re trying to improve your professional connections, here are a few times for doing so both in your current work environment as well as online.
Improve Your Communication Skills
It will be nearly impossible to build better professional relationships if your communication skills are effective or even nonexistent. Communicating isn’t just about talking to someone or hearing them when they speak. You both have to understand what the other person is saying.
Slow down when you talk, ask questions when someone else is speaking to you, and if you repeat back what you’re hearing to ensure you both are on the same page. Poor communication is at the crux of many workplace issues, including low morale, increased stress, and failure to meet deadlines.
This is right up there with improving communication skills.
If there is one thing most people can’t tolerate, it’s feeling disrespected, whether at home, at work, or by the barista at the coffee shop.
When trying to build better relationships, always remember to follow the golden rule and treat others as you would want to be treated. This means being courteous, using non-offensive language, and respecting people’s time.
Respond to Feedback Positively
You can talk about growth and improvement as much as you want, but if you can’t take feedback with a grain of salt and you don’t know how to give others constructive feedback, you won’t be able to progress past where you currently are. Giving feedback to others opens the door to establishing a deeper rapport.
Receiving feedback from others is an opportunity for you to address specific issues that may be hindering your professional development. Feedback is ultimately about perspective and will help you learn how to see things from different angles.
Contrary to what it sometimes feels like, developing better professional relationships isn’t about always proving you’re better than others. In fact, being empathetic to others, especially those who may be in a position that’s subordinate to yours, will go a long way in solidifying relationships.
Instead of feeling smug because you did something better or knew something someone didn’t, use the experience as a teaching opportunity and a chance to support someone else.
It can be easy to feel envious of someone else’s achievements, especially if you’ve been working hard on something of your own. But instead of feeling annoyed or jealous, congratulate the person.
If you get a notice on a platform like LinkedIn that it’s a work anniversary or they’ve gotten some award, use it as a chance to catch up.
Showing genuine interest and sending congrats also opens the door to ask questions or seek advice on what they’ve been doing effectively.
People love doling out advice.
One of the main reasons we network with people is to take advantage of their experience, skills, or knowledge at some point in time, even if it’s just reading articles they post.
You shouldn’t email blast everyone on your contact list regularly (or you’ll find yourself losing contacts left and right). However, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have a real need for their opinion or advice. Be sure to inquire about them, too, and always be courteous and close with a thank you.
If you’re trying to build more of a rapport with a professional contact, try to take it off the page. Suggest meeting for a coffee and set a specific time so they know you aren’t planning on chatting their ear off for two hours on a Sunday morning. If you travel a lot for work, do your best to grab a cup of joe with connections in other cities while you’re there. If non-formal meetings are more your thing, here are other 24 little things that can help you be happier in your professional life.
You might not always have something specific in mind to talk about or ask about. That’s fine. You can always drop a note to check-in. This works well with people you’ve briefly met or talked to once or twice but don’t have an established relationship yet. Keep it short and to the point and thank them for their time.
Do Some Housekeeping
Let’s be honest, we connect with so many people on professional networking sites it’s easy to lose track of who’s who.
Don’t worry, if you don’t recognize a connection, you’re not alone. Set aside some time maybe once a month to perform connection housekeeping. You don’t have to go through your entire list, especially if you’ve got hundreds of connections, but go through a section and re-introduce yourself to those you don’t know or don’t remember. Just remember it’s also important to give your contacts a break. If you reach out with a question and they don’t respond, don’t follow up by suggesting coffee.
Conversely, if you meet up for coffee, send them a “thank you” note, but resist the urge to suggest turning it into a regular thing.
While some of these tips are fairly common sense, most of us can benefit from the occasional reminder. Depending on the relationship you’re trying to build, you’ll need to tailor these strategies if you want them to work effectively.
But this list is a good jumping off point to developing stronger professional relationships and sending the groundwork for future successful networking opportunities.
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