“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”
John Donne, English Clergyman (1572-1631)
When you entered the military, your first experience was in Recruit Training or Officer Candidate School. You made friends, or at least alliances, immediately with others around you because you were sharing a common experience.
You were getting yelled at, consistently and creatively, and that guy on your left was just as confused as you.
It didn’t matter his color, or religion, or hometown, or whether his old man had money. That other recruit/candidate would likely be a friend for life. And it was almost all an accident, except you both made the same single crucial decision.
You volunteered to be there.
Your alliances became real friendships based on trust, integrity, management, and enthusiasm. It stood the test of time, no matter how brief.
The business world is no different. You chose to be here. That guy or gal to your left is in the same position as you. Your alliance and friendship, your relationship, will be essential to your not just being successful, but to getting real satisfaction in what you do every day, and over the course of your career.
If you have subordinates, it is unwise to be friends with your people. Be friendly, yes, even simpatico, but not bosom buddies. You would die for a friend (figuratively), but would you die for a gold-bricking subordinate just because he’s fun to have coffee with?
Real friendships aren’t forced, and sometimes chemistry prevents two reasonable people from hitting it off. The idea is not to bond as spiritual soul-mates. The idea is to build a business relationship with co-workers that will stand the test of time.
Most people network, though not necessarily consciously. It’s the level of quality of your networking that will pay dividends. The office social butterfly may be seeking attention, but it is what he conveys in brief contacts day to day that solidifies the relationship. Just flitting about and talking about oneself is an annoyance. Making a point to say “hey” to everyone and to ask about their lives, activities, or opinions is more fruitful. Do pick your spots. If you spend too much time actively networking, people may think you don’t have enough work to do.
A word on internet networking, whether LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or whatever new thing will be in vogue years from now. All are interesting, even kinda cool, but a slavish devotion is a mistake, especially at work. Limit your use and time to a schedule and stick to it. Business networking and social dredging can intertwine, but are two distinctly different practices.
If challenged to write down the networking groups you belong to, could you come up with more than three? Look at the quality of your networking groups. Which one would you stake your professional reputation on? Which one passes the “foxhole” test? Ask yourself if the group is one whose logo you’d put on your car or office door? Which one should you keep close to you, and which one is better at arm’s length? Which one asked you to join it, and which one would you sacrifice for to be a part of? If you are in Atlanta, VETLANTA is for you!
Being too strategic with your relationship building could be perceived as predatory or snobbish. Be pleasant to everyone. Get good with names. Smile when you greet people. Do you use the person’s name when you say hello? Do you know the security guard’s name?
Each person you relate to on a personal level will appreciate your positive recognition of their very existence, and the least of your brothers will hurt themselves to show you they are worthy of your attention and respect.
Being sincere in our overtures of friendliness in order to begin the relationship process is easy and second nature to some, but can be agonizing and painful to others.
If it comes to you with difficulty, you must get over it.
No one is an island. Do not forget it.
If you are naturally shy and introverted, and don’t engage with others in a professional setting, opportunities will pass you by. The best opportunity, though, is the one where you are seen as an enthusiastic and valued member of a great team. Not much compares to that, no matter how much money you earn.
Make an effort to connect, verbally and in person, with teammates, customers, extended colleagues, vendors, and, yes, the security guard. A smile works wonders. Eye contact is required. You cannot relate only via email, text, or whatever e-media is popular. Younger people use this social media with speed and skill, but it will never replace connecting with others.
originally published April 2016