Why is building and maintaining relationships important? Because you never know when you may need something, have a question, or want to be connected to someone else’s network. When you’ve done the work to build relationships, it makes it so easy to get the information you’re looking for when the time comes. It boils down to the joy of connection.
The way the internet works it makes it easier and easier to connect with anybody, and everybody. We have access like we never did before from your favorite author, to politicians, or your friend’s mom. Yet with this new power and access, we don’t always use these tools to the fullest potential. Nor do we consider the importance of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships. But when we slow down, and take a deep breath, it becomes more obvious how there is so much opportunity tied into even the smallest of actions.
Building relationships is not hard, it just takes a little effort. Quite frankly, a lot of people get lazy when it comes to this. They expect favors just because. Here’s an incomplete list of how we can start thinking differently about building relationships. Keep in mind, while the online world gives us new access, the same principles apply to relationships we have in the “real world.”
Build relationships before you need them. Who we need in our support system is not always obvious. You do NOT only want to make a friend or contact because they can give you something in return. And don’t underestimate the people outside your industry—you can learn a lot from them, and you may need future contacts to help round out your skills.
Be nice to everyone. This is advice a friend’s grandmother gave him when he was young and said he wanted to be President. I find it’s a good tip for getting through life in general. Don’t cast people aside, instead talk to them, and show interest in what they’re doing. Who knows if they’ll be able to help you, but you may be able to help them. We could all use some more karma points in life.
Engage and make contact. Social media and technology helps make the world a little smaller, and makes it easier to connect. There are a lot of silent “lurkers” out there, but in order to build relationships, you’ll need to engage. At the most superficial level you can like a post, but leaving a comment on a blog post, Instagram, or Twitter thread becomes more engaged and connection starts to happen. Actually saying something deeper than “I love that” will make you more memorable. And the rarest contact of them all—send an email to tell the person you appreciate their work without asking for or expecting anything in return. Saying a simple hello or thanking someone for the work they do, can be the start of something more. It’s often the littlest acts of kindness that reap the biggest rewards.
Don’t let your first point of contact be an ask. Making contact, even small enough that someone else is not seeing your name for the first time, makes asking for something a million times easier once the time comes. (When you do ask, be clear, direct and specific. Whether you know someone really well, or hardly at all, this shows you’re respecting the person on the receiving end by making it easy for them to respond. ) Doing your homework
Do your homework. Do some research into the person. Check their website, LinkedIn, social media. Try to find the answer to a question in their resources before asking for help. Showing you’re informed (and not lazy) will take you FAR. (Trust me, so few people do this step.)
Be an unofficial cheerleader. The best relationships start without ulterior motives. Celebrating and sharing the work of others can be a nice way to get on someone’s radar. Share something they created—post, article, podcast, work of art—and tag them with a quote or share a thoughtful comment. Not every share will get a response from the creator, but every social media account has a human on the other side who reads everything. Supporting others is a great way to build the foundations of a network, while also helping spread ideas to those who need them and may not have known they exist.
Be human. Be yourself. You want to sound like a person, not a robot. Be personal, real, honest, even vunerable. The more you do this, the likelihood that you’re building real, strong relationships increases. We often get caught in rules of how we “should” be doing something, but really it’s more important to be yourself. If you overthink everything, nothing will ever happen.
Have patience. Building relationships (especially the ones that are meaningful) doesn’t happen over night. Think about it as planting seeds now for later. Timing may be everything, and there’s some chance involved. You never know what the person on the other side is going through (and whatever you do see on social media is likely never the full story.) To be truly meaningful it will likely have layers and take a bit of time. Take steps forward, and do things genuinely.
Don’t burn bridges. Life is too short to make enemies. You can create your inner circle of trusted “advisors”, but there’s no need to burn bridges with others. You never know when you may need that relationship in the future.
Keep nurturing relationships. Life gets busy for sure, but little things can make a difference. One of the easiest ways to maintain contact is to send a resource link (article, book, etc.) to someone with a quick note that says “Thought of you. I wanted to pass this along in case you hadn’t seen it yet.” It’s thoughtful and doesn’t put any pressure on the recipient to respond. They very well may never respond, but you likely helped put a smile on their face. It’s the simplest of acts that help make someone’s day.
It’s so true that life can get busy and out of control at times, and we can’t always put the time, energy and effort into relationships. But that’s the beauty of building relationships—they’re there for you when you need them. When you put the time in before you need it, they’re waiting for you when the time comes. Sometimes this may be years later, but you built the foundation earlier.
Life is full of uncertainties and curve balls, so it always helps to have people on your side when you need it. You’ll get much further in life (and stay sane), when you have your “people” you can go to to talk things out. These relationships you’ve built will also be your best and most supportive cheerleaders. They’ll encourage you. They’ll connect you. They’ll be honest with you. In short: only good things can come from building relationships. They’re also a key ingredient in how the magic happens, but that’s for another post. ✨