Ever since I left Yahoo! 2 years ago, I’ve been asked numerous times about how I keep in touch with people post-Yahoo!. I would come back from a trip to LA or Europe or NYC and talk to people about how I saw this person or that person, and they would be amazed that I still knew them or was able to keep in touch with them over time and distance outside of our common factor, which would be our job at Yahoo!.
Keeping in Touch is Full-time Job…Sort of
It sometimes feels like a full time job, juggling contacts, and managing my calendar weeks in advance. It would even be nice to have an admin deal with all this! But as much time and effort as it can take, I don’t look at it as a job either. I know some people do, and there are “professional networkers” who do a lot of networking mostly for job related reasons. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I just think there is something deeper that we can enjoy about networking.
The Time Factor
Most people live in the here and now. You try to get them to nail down time in advance and it’s impossible. I have known people in the past who refused to hold a time with you in case SOMETHING BETTER SHOWS UP. How does that make you feel? Are you the most important thing in their lives?
In my role as world traveller, I have come to live by my calendar and strive for 100% compliance with it. I try to schedule things with people weeks in advance with people, since my travel calendar is already set for the next few months. I also try to remember when people want to get together with me so that I contact them later to catch up.
Sometimes I screw up though. I have missed meetings due to the complexity of my calendar and I really hate that. It doesn’t make me feel very efficient and I do my best to fill in the calendar immediately after setting something up.
Scheduling travel time is also a challenge. Knowing how long it takes to get from one place to another can be really tough. That’s another thing I hate: BEING LATE.
Time is valuable to everyone. I don’t like to waste other peoples’ time.
I’ve read some books on networking for business. Sometimes I think they miss an essential human component to networking, which is the ability to connect with other human beings at a more deeper level than just for business.
I think people see right through you when you network for business. Your mannerisms, what you talk about, everything – it all says, “we should stay in touch because it may benefit us business-wise.” It never says, “Hey what a cool person – I enjoy just shooting the breeze here and it takes a load off to catch up.” In the past, I’ve had people network with me like that. I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but I think it could be much more.
Connecting with people on a deeper level is a skill. It shows your willingness to trust, to communicate, to share, to give and receive. It speaks to you opening up as an interesting human being rather than just looking for another business contact. I believe you can learn to do this, as I have had that experience just recently over the last few years. But I also see how some people have never learned that skill and seem to be unable to even get there. It’s really too bad.
I also believe it’s the real secret to keeping in touch with people in the long run. Why would you continually keep in touch with people who you really don’t care all that much about except to get something out of them?
You naturally want to hang out with people you like, and that you can CONNECT with.
Connection starts at the beginning. In my experience, sometimes you get it or you don’t. Sometimes it’s natural and sometimes it just doesn’t work. I don’t think it can be forced. But even within that, there is a wide grey area between the “natural connection” and the “there won’t be any connection at all now or in the future”. In general, first impressions can mean a lot so I would definitely put your best forward as early as possible. Otherwise, natural connections can be severed whereby they could have developed. I also believe that there are some people you just won’t connect with at all, and sometimes you just have to live with that and move on.
No matter what, connecting with someone makes the relationship that much more satisfying and incents you to connect more.
Value Given, Value Received
It almost pains me to talk about giving and receiving value in networking. It makes it sound so unnatural. Certainly in our society, we value connections at the human level and the giving and receiving of non-physical things like love and help and respect. We don’t hold in such high regard expections of physical or monetary gifts.
But I don’t think I could talk about networking without talking about what I get out of it.
So satisfaction and enjoyment from connecting with others is one great benefit we’ve talked about.
One value I like to receive is for the effort I put into trying to meet with people, over time I’d like to see it come back my way. It takes a lot of effort to schedule things, drive around and meet people, catch up and conversate, etc. At some point, sometimes it becomes more one way. I find that I am the one that constantly pursues meetings. I call or send out emails and sometimes I get no response. The best ones I get back are the “YES WHEN ARE WE MEETING?” emails or the energetic “THAT NIGHT WORKS LOOKING FORWARD TO IT” replies. It really makes me feel good to see/feel/hear that others are just as enthusiastic to meet up with me as I am to meet with them.
If I don’t get that back, over time I am less likely continue pursuing meeting up with that person. You know, life changes. People change. People get married and have other more important things occupying their time. Or they just stink as networkers and as connectors of people. It’s just the way of the world. However, the ones to really cherish are the ones that continually give you value as much as you give them value when you meet. They enjoy your company beyond just being a great business contact.
Networking in the Digital Age
Truly it’s easier now to keep in touch with people than before. In the old days, you’d have to use the phone. Now the digital age has made it so much easier to keep in touch and find people in your past.
1. Sending out that random email to someone I haven’t talked to in a while. Certainly email is the method of choice for non-real time scheduling of meetings and communication.
2. Trolling Yahoo! 360 or Linked-In for old acquaintances. Yahoo! 360 has been particularly good because of all the people I have known over the years at Yahoo!. Friendster sometimes works, but I’m not on it that often. Social networking sites are great for this kind of stuff.
3. Instant messaging works great! While working at Yahoo!, all my old colleagues were my Yahoo! Messenger friends. I just didn’t delete them when they left, so occasionally I’ll ping them to see what’s up.
4. My blog has been an unexpected source of connection with old acquaintances. I am constantly amazed by who reads my blog. Every now and then I’ll meet up with someone and they’ll say they’ve been following my exploits on my blog for months. Amazing! Makes me want to keep blogging!
Networking takes time and effort. Connect with those you network with, when you can. Make networking fun and enjoyable rather than just another thing to do for work. Remember always that networking can lead to friendships and other rewarding relationships as well. It works the other way too, where friendships can lead to meeting more interesting people, valuable personally and professionally.
Relationships are natural and necessary for human beings so make the time and energy to meet and keep in touch.