I called an old colleague just to say “hello” and see how he was doing. We have worked together at different companies over the past dozen years. He is an inspirational finance executive and counted on me to implement his vision.
After salutations, he remarked, “You’re that guy! You are so good at keeping in touch.” I brushed off the compliment. Keeping in touch comes easily to me, and I aspire to do better.
I prefer saying “keep in touch” to “network” even though the terms are functionally equivalent.
“Networking” has a negative connotation. It conjures up images of passing out business cards at awkward events.
“Keeping in touch” feels more authentic. It invokes happy memories. Remember the last day of school before summer vacation? We would say “let’s keep in touch” to our friends.
It is never too late to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. As we emerge from our COVID hibernations, there is no better time to develop the habit of regularly reaching out.
We spend more than half of our waking lives in the office. We shared many experiences and life events with our work-friends. The better question is: why NOT keep in touch?
Research shows that work relationships can and do endure. Old colleagues can become dear friends. I am still in regular contact with people I have not worked with for over 25-years. Many have progressed to leadership positions in their field and their children—who I remember as babies—are now established in their careers.
One old friend moved to New Jersey for a better opportunity. Coincidentally, we both vacationed at the Delaware shore the same week in August. We would always get together and still joke about the time my son decked him during a family football game. Another moved across the country 20-years ago. When she and her husband had a long layover on their way to Europe, we met for dinner.
Over 70% of jobs are found through our professional networks. While only 7% of job applicants are referred internally, they account for 40% of new hires. Keeping your professional network warm is invaluable. Consider the opportunities missed and time lost if you only reach out when you need something.
Several years ago, a colleague recommended me to be a project management instructor. At the time, I was working for a large company and not looking for a change. Three years later, that introduction helped launch my new career.
Adam Rifkin, a successful serial entrepreneur, popularized the “5-minute favor.” He believes you should be willing to help if it requires a minimum investment of your time. These small acts help build our trusted networks.
Just Do It!
There is no magic to reconnecting or staying connected. Just do it!
Keeping in touch does not require developing a plan or implementing a system—that will come with time. Simply start reaching out. Commit to contacting at least one person every day. After a month, this will become a habit, and you will begin seeing the fruits of your efforts.
Who have you been thinking about lately? Who do you miss? Who had a birthday or other life event? Send them an email. Give them a call.
It may be years since you last spoke. Open with, “It has been too long. I have been thinking about you. How are you doing?”
Do not worry about feeling awkward or be concerned about “taking turns.” The other person will appreciate your initiative. Trust me.
I lost touch with my first boss for over 10-years. When we reconnected and met for dinner, it was as if just a few months had passed. It was like the old times; except we were both wiser and grayer.
There are many ways to connect and keep in touch. Selecting a method will depend on many factors, including intent and desired depth of the engagement.
In-Person & Phone
We all know face-to-face communication is the most effective because it offers the greatest fidelity. Conversation can easily flow and roam back and forth over many topics. When building or maintaining a relationship, there is nothing better than meeting in person or having a meaningful phone conversation.
Sharing a meal or “breaking bread” is an ancient custom significant to all cultures that symbolizes friendship. Meeting for lunch or coffee is a great way to reconnect. Every few months, I have lunch with an old colleague. Pre-COVID, we would explore new restaurants, now we have Zoom-lunches.
Phone and video calls are great substitutes for meeting in person. They allow us to maintain relationships with people that are distant. My best friend from graduate school lives in Philadelphia, and we talk at least once a week.
The dynamics of a phone or video calls are less fluid than in-person. So, follow proper etiquette. Make sure this is a good time to chat. Be mindful of the call’s length. Do not dominate the conversation—transitions are more challenging.
Email, Text, and Messaging
Emails, text, and other messaging platforms are great for checking in or reconnecting. These asynchronous modes are convenient, fast, and efficient but do not create deep relationships.
While these technologies may seem functionally similar, they are different. Use the tool that best fits the recipient. Email has been a standard tool for over two decades. However, the average professional receives over 120 messages a day. With this deluge, many emails go unopened and unanswered.
Texting is generally more interactive than email, and over 95% of all text messages are opened. It is more likely that you will receive a quick response from a text message. However, these shorter messages are not as rich as email.
Messaging platforms and applications each of their own perceived use. Some platforms are more associated with business relationships and others for personal use. Some tools may have great functionality but not broadly adopted. One of my professional interest groups debated which platform would be best for hosting our discussions.
Social media is posting items on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Social media can create name recognition and presence. These tools allow us to reach a broad audience quickly, but they do not build personal relationships.
Last year, I resolved to be more active on LinkedIn, Facebook business, and Twitter. I promote my upcoming classes or presentations, share articles, and recognize others’ accomplishments. These efforts have been successful in raising my visibility and require less time than I anticipated.
Maintaining relationships is critical to our emotional health and important to our career success. Many people feel uncomfortable reaching out. Initially, reaching out may feel awkward, but rest assured the other person will be happy to hear from you.
© 2021, Alan Zucker; Project Management Essentials, LLC
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