Put the Relating Back in Relationships – At Work and in Life

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We’re in the middle of a new world order.  Technology is pervasive, and it seems each day, we learn about a new way to communicate electronically. Today’s generations of working adults have experienced firsthand an exponential increase in the available mechanisms to share information – without ever having to have a voice-to-voice or face-to-face conversation.

Just decades ago, the phone was a primary way of getting in touch. People even regularly held in-person meetings to get things done. Then faxing came along, and projects and documents that sometimes required getting in touch could be sent over a telephone line. Soon after, email, smart phones and text messaging hit the communications scene.

It’s not uncommon in a month for my kids to send upwards of 3,000 text messages…but only have 20 minutes of “talk time” having actual conversations on the phone. Typical teenage behavior? Probably so. However, it is this very behavior that is being modeled in workplaces and client-counsel interactions across the country.

There is no question: Modern communications tools have made it easier to get the job done. We can work more efficiently. Things that might have taken a day or two to resolve now can be addressed in minutes – or less. The sharing of relevant information about projects, services, deadlines or contact information can be accomplished at the click of a mouse or a swipe on a phone screen.

My concern is based in what this new communications process denies. When you interact with someone in person or by phone, the discussion rarely is limited to the task at hand. It evolves, through natural conversation, to something more meaningful. By meaningful I don’t mean “deep” or “emotional”, but the ability to bridge the gap between getting business done and building a relationship.

Consider this example: a business person and his customer are working on finalizing a sales document. This is easily enough done through a back-and-forth email exchange. But imagine what’s missed in sharing edits back and forth:

• How was your weekend?
• Is your mother out of the hospital?
• Did your son win that Little League tournament?
• Are you excited about your upcoming vacation?

True enough that any of those questions could be posed in an email. However, the natural exchange of pleasantries that turns into genuine mutual conversation is denied. Without voice inflections, body language and the comfortable interchange that occurs in a person-to-person or telephone conversation, much is lost.

So what does this mean for successful business (or personal) relationships? It means that the opportunity to take what is a business interchange and build it into a substantive relationship that extends beyond the “business talk” is denied.

It’s those small connections that lead to long-term engagement between people. As we share snippets of our lives, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, we get to know people better. That’s relating.

When we know more, we share even more, and begin to align with others on our values, beliefs and passions. When we share more, the relationship evolves into something that transcends just a straightforward working exchange.

Building relationships, and allowing them to deepen over time, builds trust. The development of mutual trust creates stronger bonds – and that’s good for relationships – and good for business. One author and professor who has inspired me on this path is Dr. Sherry Turkle of MIT. Learn more about her work on reclaiming conversations in the digital age here.

A Caveat: This advice by no means implies that you should share every aspect of your personal life with business colleagues, clients or customers. Boundaries should remain in the business world, and you should never share more than you’re comfortable sharing. Appropriateness should dictate the conversation.

The bottom line is simple. Use email and texting when you need it. They’re efficient, effective and can get the job done quickly. That being said – pick up the phone! Schedule a lunch meeting! Get to know your business associates and bring the relating back into your relationships.