How Companies Can Harness the Power of Connection
Over the past year, we’ve had to think about a variety of unexpected issues including social distancing, layoffs, rehiring/reopening, CREB payments, masks, vaccines, and more than our fair share of hand-washing. But one subject may have occupied our thoughts more than any other during a time of quarantine and isolation: human connection.
As millions of employees shifted to remote work overnight, they also had to quickly become accustomed to communicating via emails, phone calls, and video chats. While this was sometimes uncomfortable, it gave us an opportunity to think about the essentials of effective communication. How can we engage our colleagues and clients more naturally and less robotically? How can we make them feel like members of a team? How can we build stronger relationships?
These are all questions I’ve kept top of mind my entire professional career, but they seem more pressing now than ever before. With that in mind, here are a few of the ways company leaders and their employees can harness the power of connections to make organizations more open, engaging, and productive places to work.
Build Relationships Through Familiarity and Grace
One of my favorite tricks for forging new business relationships is an approach I call “forced familiarity.” When meeting someone for the first time, behave as if you already know them – be welcoming and imagine them as a friend. This doesn’t mean acting inappropriately informal (still mind your manners!), but it does mean foregoing “salesiness” in exchange for warmth and friendliness. Word to the wise: familiarity shouldn’t lead to meandering conversations about personal issues – show everyone, whether a new client or first-time prospect, that you respect their time by getting straight to the point.
Beyond the initial interaction, you can make relationship-building a priority even in the most routine interactions. One way to keep relationships on track and intact when they could otherwise go south: offer people an opportunity to exit a digital conversation gracefully. Even if you’ve pinged someone several times, take full responsibility for any failure of communication: “I’ve neglected to follow up over the past couple of weeks, so I wanted to reach out.” If you receive pushback from a client, always maintain pride in your product or business, be respectful, and leave a clear opening for future business. Like anyone, clients have good and bad times to interact – don’t take it personally if you find it difficult to connect.
Maximize Every Touchpoint Without Wasting Anyone’s Time
Although the emergence of remote work has provided flexibility, many workers also find themselves continually juggling tasks with responsibilities at home.
To take just one example, Pew reports that half of employees with children under the age of 18 have found it “difficult … to be able to get their work done without interruptions” while working from home, a proportion that drops to 20 percent for those without young children. This is a reminder that you (as a manager, employee, or consultant) may be unaware of what difficulties someone is having at home, which means you should make communication as focused as possible to avoid wasting anyone’s time. Furthermore, if you are in the process of building new business relationships, you can assume that in today’s “new normal” most people are prioritizing efficiency in order to tackle their never-ending to do lists effectively.
You should approach every call – even brief and informal catch-up calls – with a clear agenda. This may sound Machiavellian, but it’s actually the best way to respect everyone’s time (clients, employees, and vendors) and get as much value as possible out of every interaction. Feel free to mirror the style of the other person, though – if they want to talk kids, talk kids; if they want to get straight to the point, get there. You can do these things while keeping a constant eye on the agenda and time. And be listening for new things you can learn about the person on the other end of the line, as this will make future conversations easier and add a warm personal touch. Maybe your client is planning a trip to Ireland. Or maybe their child is struggling in school. This is vital information that should generate empathy and frame future interactions.
Maintain Connections Virtually Without the Robotics
Although we’ve become accustomed to virtual communication, there’s no replacement for in-person interactions. Remote workers can’t just drop into a colleague’s office or start a conversation in the hallway – the parameters of our conversations are necessarily more constricted when they’re virtual. But this doesn’t mean we can’t make these conversations more personal and human.
For example, you can use impersonal modes of communication like email to set up more organic conversations via phone calls or video chats. When you do so, it’s important to make the next step as easy as possible – provide specific options for when you’ll have the call, know exactly what you plan to talk about and stay within whatever time constraints you establish, and get all the actionable information you can out of each conversation. When it comes to client engagement, provide many avenues for interaction that aren’t thinly veiled sales schemes, such as free digital events, social media chats, and so on.
In my experience, these are all effective strategies to help companies create an open environment where people at every level of the organization, inside and out, feel more engaged and connected to one another. When companies understand the power of these connections, they won’t just be more successful – they’ll also be much better places to work.
Katie Marchetti is the managing director at BluWave. She recently joined the company from Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG), where she served as Chief of Staff, coordinating the execution of strategic priorities with senior staff across the business. Katie also spent ten years with GLG in London, where she ran the firm’s Credit and Macro segments for all of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Katie joined GLG from Herbert Smith Freehills in London, where she practiced U.S. securities law within the firm’s Capital Markets Team. Prior to this, Katie worked in the executive search industry in both the U.S. and Europe. Katie received her LL.M from King’s College London, her J.D. from the University of Tennessee, and her B.A. in international relations and Italian studies from the University of Notre Dame.
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