C-Suite Network™

How to Improve Relationships Despite Social Distancing

Enjoying working from home?  It’s nice not having to deal with people interrupting you, isn’t it?  Your productivity is soaring.  You have more time with the people you love.  Best of all, no need to deal with office politics.

It sounds like you’re an introvert.  Like me.

But while sitting happily ensconced at home, our extrovert colleagues are doing what comes naturally: reaching out, touching base, supporting people.  They’re not being mercenary (well may a couple of them are).  Extroverts GET energy from interacting with other people.  Their well-being depends on staying connected.  We introverts aren’t shy (a common misperception). It’s just that interacting with people saps our energy.  So, we avoid it.

But using social distancing as a reason (that sounds better than excuse doesn’t it) to disconnect puts you at a competitive disadvantage.  Crises situations can cause people to revise their impressions of others.  This gives you the opportunity to show you’re an even more outstanding team player.  Embed in your colleagues’ and seniors’ minds that when the chips are down, you take the initiative to improve the situation.

Here’s a simple, five-step process you can do to improve relationships despite social distancing:

  1. Make a List. Who do you need to keep in touch with?  Create a spreadsheet of the people you interacted with regularly in your workplace.  (Here’s a spreadsheet you can download.)  Then add the people who you might have seen or spoken with once in a while.  Do you know a couple of junior people who could use some mentoring?  Add them.  Aim for 25 to 50 names in total.  Make a column where you can enter the date of the last time you were in touch and fill it is as best you remember.
  2. Add Value. Figure out how you can help each person.  Add a column to your spreadsheet that briefly describes this.  Possibilities include providing ideas for a project, support for a problem, or mentorship.  If you’re not sure, ask about it in your first contact.  It may be as simple as camaraderie for someone who lives alone.
  3. Set a Goal. Decide the frequency with which you want to be in touch.  In most cases, I recommend once a week.  But for a senior colleague, you may choose every two weeks or less.  You may feel you’re bothering people by contacting them so often.  But think how nice it feels when you get a text message from someone who wants to know how you’re doing.  It’s nice to have someone thinking about you, isn’t it?
  4. Calendar Time. Schedule 15, 30, or even 60 minutes in your calendar each day to focus on connecting with people.  Keep it like you would a meeting with your boss or most important client.
  5. Phone, Text, Email. Each day, get in touch with five to ten people.  Now there might be people on your list you deal with on a regular basis for work matters.  Great!  Remember to periodically ask about their well-being and that of their family and loved ones.  When you ask, “how are things?” give the person time to really respond.  Ask a follow-up question.  Then you can get onto business.  For people you aren’t in touch with frequently, it doesn’t have to be long.  On the phone say, “Hi, thought I’d see how you’re doing.”  A one or two-line text or email is fine.  Don’t worry if they don’t respond.  The person will be grateful for your consideration.  Even for someone who (secretly) dislikes you, he’ll probably like that you express concern.

Remember family members and friends.  Include them among your 25-50.  If you haven’t been good about staying in touch with your parents or siblings, now you have a reason to do so.  This is the time to get in touch with that long-lost school chum or college buddy.  Everybody has COVID-19 in common, so you won’t be at a loss for a conversation starter.  Think of the fun you’ll have blowing the person’s mind that you remembered and tracked him down.

With restaurants and bars closed, where can you meet friends or family members who don’t live with you?  Google Hangouts is an excellent tool for having a virtual get together.  Last night I had a virtual drink with my friend and we talked for two hours like we’ve done almost every Tuesday night for the last year and a half.  Truthfully it wasn’t as good as having our favorite bartender periodically join our conversation, but we still had a good time.

Get a group together.  Theme the event.  If you’re a whiskey fan, start a tasting club.  Whiskey Advocate will explain how.  I’ve heard that several women in my community gather once a week on Hangouts to chat while knitting and crocheting.

Starved for sports like Jason Gay?  Maybe those fantasy leagues aren’t so crazy after all.  Check out my article on using common interests to build relationships.

From time-to-time, examine your list and revise it.  Not every relationship is going to flower.  That’s okay.  There are lots of great people to add to your list.  Even after social distancing ends, keep this up.  Relationships are the lifeblood of your career.  Keep them flowing…

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