Relationships are changing. More accurately, they’ve already changed quite a lot. Before the internet, the only quick way to talk to people was to do it face to face. If you had friends in other cities, if you had to move, or if you wanted a job and didn’t live in a city where someone was hiring for that specific thing, you were just out of luck.
These days, the rules have changed. Everyone knows everyone else through things like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. You can make friends across the world and get hired for a job without ever stepping foot in an office.
In a world with more relationships, though, how do you make the most of them? As a writer whose work involves networking to find opportunities, I’ve had to ask myself this question.
Sure, it’s easier to form a relationship than it was before. You don’t have to talk to someone in person to become their friend. It might start because you followed them on Twitter. But these changes in the current day are a double-edged sword.
Most of us probably know more people than our parents, but how do we make those relationships count in a world where everyone is connected to everyone?
The answers to that question aren’t always clear, but if you want to get closer to the people around you, rather than making small talk and following them on social media, the question is worth studying deeper.
These are lessons that I’ve been taught over time and have been useful in my career, but you can benefit from them too and master them faster than I did.
1. Realize That It Won’t Always Be Fun
If you want to make the most of a relationship and not just remain acquaintances with someone, you’re going to have to do more than stick around when it’s most comfortable for you.
This rule applies to a lot of different types of relationships, but in the business world it’s especially apparent. If you want to build a professional network, you’re going to have to put in some hard work and step outside of what’s easy.
As an example, can you do more for your coworkers? Most of the time, the minimum isn’t enough to form a tighter bond that will last into the future, one that will last even if you no longer share a workplace.
It might involve offering advice on a skill that you’re good at but your coworker isn’t so great at. Or helping them with some project that doesn’t benefit you but would help your coworker. Doing things like this is a good way to place yourself in someone’s memory for the future.
This also takes time. Just like you wouldn’t expect to go to the gym and become fit after a couple of days, you shouldn’t expect to put effort into relationships for a few weeks and see long-term effects. To get those more long-term benefits, you have to remain consistent.
This is why it’s not fun all the time. You have to keep putting the effort into it, even when you don’t exactly feel like doing it and even when you don’t get something out of it. But by being selfless during these times, you’ll gain something by deepening your connections for the future.
2. Really Listen To Others
If you want to build a network with a lot of people you can depend on to provide mutual benefit in the future, you need to become a good listener in addition to offering your help to others.
People like talking about themselves, and they also like feeling understood. You should practice both listening to others and understanding them at more than a surface level.
Is your coworker or acquaintance talking to you about their personal problems? Instead of treating it like any other conversation, pay attention and make it known that you’re listening by asking questions and repeating things back.
Your listening can help them with structuring their own thoughts, and they’ll appreciate this. And if someone feels like you understand them, they’ll definitely be more likely to come back around in the future for other things.
3. The Benjamin Franklin Effect
The Benjamin Franklin effect is said to be a psychological phenomenon where someone is more likely to give another favor to someone they’ve already helped than they are to return the favor to someone that’s helped them.
Ben Franklin himself observed this and said, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
What can you learn from this? If you’ve already gotten help from someone before, you shouldn’t be afraid to come to them again. In fact, you might have pretty good odds getting help the second time, too.
However, that’s not to say that the inverse of the effect isn’t true also and that you shouldn’t grant favors to others. There’s positives to be had from that, too.
4. Paying Attention To Reciprocity
The inverse of the Ben Franklin effect is reciprocity. It’s the idea that someone will help out someone that’s helped them. Long story short, it means that if you’re nice to someone or you help them out with someone, they’ll have an inclination to return the favor sometime down the line.
In networking, this can be a big deal. For example, are you looking for work and know someone in the field you’re looking to get into?
While they might have otherwise been neutral to your search for work, if you’ve helped them in the past, they may remember that and give more help than they otherwise would have.
You never know when this help will pop up, either. You might not even have to ask for it. If you’ve done good things for people in your network, sometimes those good things will just come back around at an unexpected time without you having to do anything at all.
5. Go For Quality, Not Quantity
It’s easy to have a lot of connections with people these days. You can have thousands of friends on Facebook or mutual followers on Twitter, but how close are you to all of these people?
Do you really benefit each other through being in each other’s networks? For most of the people on your followers list, the answer is probably not much.
Deeper interactions are a key to cementing relationships in your network and increasing your status beyond ‘acquaintance.’
Spending personal time with someone outside of a professional context and really connecting with them does more in the long run than just helping out at work from time to time.
By doing this, and the other things on this list, you can begin to build your network up in some of the same ways that executives and celebrities do on the way to the top in their respective fields.
I had to learn some of this through trial and error. You, on the other hand, can do better by thinking about it now instead of learning by slipping and falling first.