Before we lived online, building strong relationships, personally and in business, meant literal face time. At work, being interested in your boss and coworkers, chatting on breaks, playing on the company softball team, and participating in networking meetings all helped cement solid connections.
But now that FaceTime is a video call on an iPhone, Zoom meetings take place on almost any device, and networking meetings are mostly virtual, we don’t spend much time together IRL (in real life). Does this hamper our ability to form and maintain strong relationships?
It doesn’t need to, says entrepreneur and venture capitalist Steve Streit in this recent interview: “I always advise entrepreneurs to connect with people by understanding their aspirations and desires, whether they are partners, customers, employees, or regulators,” he says. “I have found that truly knowing a person, and having that person be able to know you, makes for strong relationships that create the bonds of success.”
Here are five key ways to foster more meaningful relationships in the digital era:
1. Make time for actual face time. Maybe you don’t have the leisure for a three-hour lunch (few of us do, unless we can claim it as a business expense or are independently wealthy), but what about a coffee chat before work, or a weekend meet-up to walk in the park? Bonus points for the latter: you get exercise, too. Send the people you’d like to spend time with your calendar, and ask them to pick a convenient time to get together. You never can tell what meaningful business alliance, deeper friendship, or new ideas might spark from this connection. And after COVID, we all need to spend time with others more than ever.
2. Go deeper. It’s easy to talk about the job at hand with a business associate you don’t know well, but asking more personal questions can lead to a closer connection. By asking, “So what do you love to do in your off hours?” you may discover this seemingly demure colleague is writing an action/adventure novel in her spare time, or that the top salesperson has a green thumb and a prize home garden. Getting personal can build strong relationships in the digital age, especially if you’re sincerely interested and listen well.
3. Let them know they can count on you. In business and in life, doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’ll do it, goes a very long way in building trust. Trust builds over time, like relationships. When someone knows they can depend on you to show up, keep your word, follow through, and handle responsibility, a relationship grows roots.
4. Cultivate an online community. If you’re on social platforms, don’t simply put up a profile and forget about it, or just repost other people’s images and words. Connect with others and have conversations with them. Like, comment on, and share their posts. Participate in industry-specific groups, and share valuable advice where appropriate. Join video conferences and virtual events. This is how technology helps build meaningful relationships.
5. Be real. We all know how easy it is to photoshop a picture or curate the image of how we want to appear online. That’s human nature. But the more authentic you can be, the more others will be able to relate to you — and the more genuine your relationships will be, online and IRL.
The adage, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken,” attributed to Oscar Wilde, holds true for building strong business and personal relationships in the digital age. Start there.