As our technology has developed, we have evolved from keeping physical address books, rolodexes and contact lists to using sophisticated online databases that discern between our friends, acquaintances and clients. We no longer have to remember birthdays or anniversaries or miss congratulating a friend because we heard about an achievement too late, because now we are automatically advised of such occasions through social media, smart phones and CRM systems.
Networking events no longer hold the worry that if we don’t contact someone immediately after an event we will have lost the opportunity forever, because social media sites now allow contact to be made at the click of a link. Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook allay our fears that we might lose contact with someone whom we don’t want to meet regularly for coffee, but we do want to advise of something we have in common in the future. We can announce events and give calls to action to sign petitions because online social networking means we can invite large numbers of people to physical functions, knowing that not everyone will turn up but enough people will attend that we won’t be doomed to be alone. We can ask people to endorse our services or ‘Like’ our Facebook page in the hope that suddenly thousands will see our services. Surely this is Nirvana, where the efficiency of social media creates hours of leisure for us as a result of streamlining our social and business communications?
The reality is that we seem to have less time now than ever before. We become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information directed at us and are pulled in all directions, often finding it hard to focus and concentrate. Increasingly, stories are heard of important business and personal relationships ended by text message, the sender saved from having to experience the emotional reactions of the receiver. Then we are told at the network event that ‘People only do business with people they like’ – and this doesn’t mean clicking the Like button on Facebook. Something has gone terribly wrong, because now we can feel more alone than ever, and feel pressured to do even more to have successful relationships.
For instance, whilst we may smugly smile in the knowledge that we have reached five hundred-plus LinkedIn connections, so many connections that the counter stops registering them, how many of these people do we really know? How many of our connections or Facebook friends would, if asked, bail us out of a difficult situation at 3 a.m?
It is true that whilst we may engage with large numbers of people, most of us only spend physical time with people we trust. In business, we buy and partake of other people’s products and services if we trust them. To be successful in both personal and professional life, we have to do more than connect occasionally on social media – we have to move from being linked to being liked, and that’s going to involve giving something personal of ourselves. We have to really communicate and connect to build trust and effective relationships.
My 3C’s of Communication comprises three elements:
Each of these progressive stages requires us to give something of ourselves beyond the standard LinkedIn Invite and Facebook Liking.
We all know the phrase, ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression’. So when meeting people for the first time, do something memorable that fits in with your values. People like to be asked with real interest about what is important to them. Instead of the standard ‘So what do you do?’, engage with people in a playful way that shows genuine interest. Ask them questions about what inspires them or what were the key points that resonated with them from whatever event you are attending. Be open to the reality that your first impressions based on appearance or style might be very wrong. Many opportunities are lost when people are quickly dismissed, when they may be just the people you need to meet.
Connections are made when we really communicate with others. If we are good communicators we listen and take interest in other people and eloquently convey what we want to say. We read the signs that indicate the other person is confused or bored, and use appropriate words to rectify this and maintain rapport. We constant challenge our assumptions about what others mean and use sophisticated skills to check out details and meanings behind a speaker’s message. These communication skills contribute to being liked because the ones we are connecting with feel understood and respected, and that they have not been ‘talked at’ but communicated with. These skills are invariably lost online ‘Liking’ unless we really reach out to clarify what we mean.
The quality of our relationships equals the quality of our communication, so if we invest time and energy in becoming exquisite communicators, we lay foundations that allow us to take advantage of opportunities for collaboration. Collaboration is the process by which we come together to create something bigger than ourselves. Trust is essential, or we cannot open ourselves to being challenged or put aside preconceived ideas of what we expect from the connection. When each of us comes to the table with our skills, aspirations and qualities in a context of trust and effective communication, collective projects can be enacted that are not possible when we work alone.
The 3C’s of Communication can be applied to every social situation, whether in business or personal life. Lots of connections are made through networking, but they only become meaningful if we really communicate effectively with others beyond the limitations of social media. Not all of us go on to collaborate, but by communicating effectively we are more likely to be accepted and remembered by people than if no effort is made beyond clicking a ‘Like’ button. Amazing collaborations can arise when real and lasting connections are made and the foundations of effective and ongoing communication are put in place.