Build a Network of the Right Relationships
In my lifetime (I’m all of 40 years old), I have had the pleasure of meeting some great people and have continued connecting with them. I remember thinking recently that if relationships and people I know were deposits in a bank account, I’d be rich. I have also known others with whom I have lost contact for one reason or another. Though I may not have been consciously aware of it at the time, it was on purpose – there are specific reasons some relationships have remained intact, while others have waned. I’d like to take a few minutes, (or paragraphs, as the case may be), to discuss the importance of having good relationships, finding new ones, and measuring them.
What are right relationships?
Looking at some of the people with whom I have continued to maintain meaningful contact in some way, it’s easy for me to see why. These are people I enjoy being around, and who add value to me and my life, and to whom (I hope) I add value as well.
I have friends who are directors of a camp I worked at while I was in college. They are some of the most genuine, caring, and altruistic people I have ever known. Every time I leave their presence, I am lifted up, encouraged, and thankful for their friendship. Though I don’t see them very often, I always find myself enjoying talking with them and hoping the conversations will last much longer than they do!
Another example I have involved two different coworkers (one former, one current) with whom I continue to maintain contact. I worked closely with the former coworker for about 3 years, and have worked with the current one for about 2+ years. These are both people with whom I was able to carry on intelligent conversations about work-related topics and glean helpful advice. One of the funniest things that happened, however, was when they both referred to me, at different times and independent of one another, as “Pollyanna” because of my extreme (translation = obnoxious) optimism. Because of my relationships with these two, I understood that to be a compliment rather than insult. Am I optimistic? Indeed – Positivity is one of my strengths! Do I believe that trait adds value to those around me? Of course.
Lastly, I recently attended an Association of Talent Development (ATD) meeting here in Minneapolis. I was eager to learn more about the Learning & Development industry and knew that connecting with others in the field was important. Within ten minutes of walking through the door, I was glad I went. I had been using recording software to produce training videos for our firm, but was a bit dismayed at how much training I had to complete just to get started with that particular product. I voiced my dismay to the other attendees and was offered two solutions that were, in their estimation, much simpler and more user-friendly. Sign me up! I left that meeting with three business cards of others in the organization who are in the same field as I am, and will connect with them soon to share stories, thoughts, tips, and tricks with the intent of adding value to one another.
If you haven’t seen the value of good relationships yet, let me ask you a question: Do you have an area of your life in which you’d like to see some improvement? Perhaps you’d like to be a more effective leader, or maybe you’d like to improve your project management skills. Maybe you have a project that requires a more specific skillset than you currently have. What about personal goals (see my previous article: How to Set Effective Goals) – do you have any? If so, do you need help with them? Who do you know that can help you?
What about adding value to those around you? Do you have any unique gifts, talents, or abilities that can benefit others? Are you a problem-solver? Are you good with numbers? Do you enjoy writing? Chances are, there are others in your sphere of influence who are not gifted in these areas (and probably don’t enjoy them). What better way to add value to others than to find something you enjoy and doing it for them?!?!
A Tree is Known by Its Fruit
Finally, in order to evaluate the quality of your relationships, let me suggest asking yourself three simple questions:
First, do you enjoy this person’s company? If yes, consider this an initial indicator of a good relationship!
Second, are you able to add anything of value to this person’s life? This may or may not be a question you can answer yourself. Take a step back from your relationships and consider the value you add to the lives of others. As tough as it may be to hear or realize, you may be taking more than you give. While there are seasons where this may be the case, even necessary, it is not sustainable. I myself have had seasons where I have felt a bit needy and therefore, probably behaved like more of a “taker” than a “giver” in certain respects. My intent, however, was not to stay that way. If you find yourself there, start thinking of ways you can give and contribute to the lives of those around you. You may just find your problems get smaller and smaller.
Finally, does this person add anything of value to you? It may sound selfish to actually ask yourself this question, but whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a relationship bank account – people make deposits and withdrawals your life. If someone is constantly and continuously asking things of you, and never reciprocates the gestures, over time you may find yourself dreading interactions with, or even worse, avoiding them altogether.
Build the Network
I’d like to close by suggesting a simple action step: take a few minutes and make a list of people in your network. Start with an area of interest in mind – if you’re interested in growing your professional network, start there. Look around you and list the names of those with whom you connect professionally. Determine whether or not you are somehow able to add value to them, and if they are to you. If you find the deposit and withdrawal columns to be unbalanced, find ways to reconcile them.
Finally, look for ways to grow your network. I have found that LinkedIn and professional associations, like ILTA (and ATD for me), are excellent resources. Take some time to explore these areas and look for others in similar fields. A simple search and a few connections within those networks and associations may prove to be of more value than you know.