Beyond Networking: Creating Supportive and Lasting Friendships

Making FriendsWhen was the last time you made an effort to brush up on your networking skills?

Well, if you’re in job search or trying to improve your ability to connect in business situations, your appetite for networking help may be related to the level of pressure you feel to get results. Fortunately, networking tips are not hard to find, and there are some excellent books that can help you. Of course, there are some great online resources too. In fact, my friend, Ora Shtull, posted a helpful video on using body language to enhance likeability. Great tips, and well worth checking out!

Yet, it’s what Ora said at the end of her video that really caught my attention. She said: “Let’s make sure our body language matches our words and intentions.” In a comment to her post, I noted that how we frame our intentions can be a big influence on how we experience meeting others. More often than not, openness and a genuine curiosity about people can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and building rapport. When we create an internal frame of receptivity, meeting others can become much more enjoyable. [Tweet this]

How Can I Help You?

Unfortunately, that’s not how most individuals approach it. Most are reluctant to meet new people. Until they have to. [Tweet this] In fact, based on what I’ve seen in my career consulting work, it’s often some need – often desperate – that gets people to reach out to forge new contacts. So, they brace themselves to venture out to networking events and other meetings to connect.

Some still work the room, leaving a trail of business cards in their wake. By now, however, most people realize that coming across as too needy or too aggressive can be a turn off. So, they seek to avoid appearing to be someone who is merely using people. To that end, most people follow the advice of networking advisors who suggest uncovering needs, and to lead with giving. In fact, recently, this idea has taken on such momentum that some see it as a paradigm shift from taking to giving.

While the intent is admirable, I don’t believe most people carry this out particularly well. Frankly, I become uncomfortable when someone I barely know follows up a meeting or an online interaction with an offer to help me. Call me cynical, but my first thought in these instances is, “What do you want?” That’s often followed with me thinking that if I need help, I’ll turn to my friends.

As I see it, networking has typically been about getting what you want. In the process, you may be willing to help others get what they want. In other words, it tends to be transactional. Friendship, however, allows for helping each other get what we each want – without the forced reciprocity. [Tweet this]

To be fair, Selena Soo, an advocate for leading with giving, takes a long-term view. That is, by being proactive in meeting people daily, and then nurturing these relationships, you’ll build good will and trust. Sounds to me like sowing the seeds of friendship!

Mere Exposure

Incorporating this longer-term approach into daily life makes sense. But how? Fortunately, not every situation is a networking event. Life presents us with many natural opportunities to meet others. And in situations were people are consistently exposed to each other, it’s often easier to connect.

Almost magically, through mere exposure, whether in person or online, the barriers come down and relationships get started. Familiarity, it seems breeds not contempt but likeability. [Tweet this] With consistent exposure we get opportunities to reduce our anxieties and break through barriers to establishing new relationships. Often, at a comfort level and pace that can work for us as well as the other person.

While the level of intimacy in these budding relationships may be low, consistency leads to what Shasta Nelson calls Contact Friends, that is, people with whom we are friendly when we see them in a shared context, say at a class or in an online group. Over time, consistency and growing intimacy allows these friendships to mature.

Cultivating Both Happiness and Success

In her book, The How of Happiness, among other practices, one happiness habit Sonja Lyubomirsky identifies is nurturing social relationships. More recently, Gary Vaynerchuk made this point in a compelling way that applies to both life in general and to business in particular:

“How we cultivate our relationships is often the greatest determinant of the type of life we get to live.  Business is no different.   [It] … happens in the small, personal interactions that allow us to prove to each other who we are and what we believe in, honest moments that promote good feelings and build trust and loyalty.  When given the choice, people will always spend their time around people they like. When it’s expedient and practical, they’d also rather do business …[with]… people they like.”

Friends enjoying the viewClearly, the level of success we attain in life most often depends on our ability to earn the positive regard of others, and to establish the kind of intimacy that leads to satisfying and sustainable relationships. Of course, while developing friendships seems like it should be natural, they don’t just happen. [Tweet this] They start with intentionality, but also take attention, interest, and sharing; and as trust grows, more transparency.

Take Small Steps

Certainly, there are some basics for relating to other people that work both in person and online. In fact, your mom probably taught you some of these. Yet, I think that fundamental to establishing relationships is draw out (or maybe nurture) your spirit of generosity and genuine interest.

When you take an interest in other people, they take notice. And more often than not, they take an interest in you. [Tweet this] But let’s face it; too much interest too soon is simply creepy. Rather, it’s important to do this in small steps. With care, you can make friends, even in a digital world.

Take that long view, and get started. Your life will be better for it!

Making Real Friends In A Digital World

Digital WorldHow much effort do you put into making friends? If you’re like most people, I’d guess you focus more on networking, than on making friends. After all, friendships take care of themselves. Only they don’t. [Tweet this]

According to Shasta Nelson, friendships don’t just materialize. You need to make them happen. Friendships typically start with some initial attraction, usually based on shared activities or interests. But there’s more. As Nelson points out, there are five steps to friendship: being open, consistently initiating, adding positivity, increasing vulnerably, and practicing forgiveness. Certainly, these steps take time and regular interactions online and in person.

In other words, friendships require investment.

So Much More Than Business

Yet, if you’re like a lot of people, investing time in making friends may seem too demanding. After all, you’re life is already busy. Really busy.  Besides you’re already meeting new people at business functions and meet-up events.  Yet, you’ll likely regard the majority of people you meet as business contacts.

Why is this so? Aside from the nature of the events themselves, I think it’s because we tend to overly subscribe to the notion that business is business. Perhaps it’s a cultural artifact from The Godfather. You know, it’s not personal, it’s just business. Somehow, that theme is so strong that it’s easy to miss an even more powerful message. One delivered by Don Vito Corleone himself:

“Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”

If research is any guide, friendship is also equal to health, happiness, and longevity.

Actually, making friends is personal. It goes well beyond the aims of networking objectives. True social connectivity is so much more than big numbers of friends, fans, and followers. With lots of contacts but few friends, you’re at risk of being lonely. [Tweet this]

Real Friends

Fortunately, our digital world supports us in pursuing friendships. [Tweet this] Certainly, it’s one way to keep up with friends we already have. Yet, it’s also possible to start and nurture new relationships online. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and other social media platforms, the idea of online friends is not quite as inconceivable as it once was. Well, as long as you’re able to get past the distinction between online friends and real life friends.

Friends

Over time, if you take a real interest, the people you interact with online not only emerge as real people, but can also end up as friends. Sure there are differing depths to these friendships, but where possible to connect by phone or in person, these friendships can blossom into some of the most important relationships in your life. Case in point: One of my best friends ever is someone I met and long interacted with on Facebook and Twitter – before ever chatting by phone or meeting up!

Digital Chemistry

Frankly, the shared activities and interests that are the basis for growing friendships typically happen in person. Yet, interacting with people online can nurture the consistency and intimacy that makes bonds stronger. It also helps to when you “click” with the people you meet.

While you probably wouldn’t associate chemistry with online relationships, social media is not without relationship dynamics.  In fact, online relationships can be driven by subtle influences that create a kind of digital chemistry. [Tweet this]

One influence is the mere-exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle. As it applies to people, it means that the more you see someone, whether in person or online, the more likeable they appear to be. [Tweet this] Sure, there are going to be exceptions. Yet, overall you’re most likely to warm up to and interact with the people you see most often.

The other influence on digital chemistry is something called ambient awareness. It is a peripheral awareness that comes with exposure to fragments of social information. As discussed by Clive Thompson, in the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” this awareness “…brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business.”

Sure, that’s not always a good thing. Yet, what it does for budding friendships is truly powerful. Online social information about people we meet gets us beyond mere familiarity to allow for enhanced intimacy. [Tweet this]

It Starts With Genuine Interest

Of course, not only do friendships take time, but they grow out of two-way sharing and caring. Yet, as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” So, for new relationships to have a chance, especially online, the first step is showing you care.

Showing you care means taking a genuine interest. This involves showing empathy and establishing rapport. It also means getting others to share what they enjoy, and making them feel good about themselves.  In other words, make your initial interactions about them, not you.  Doing so conveys your interest, caring, and generosity. As well, putting others first, is time-tested advice for making friends.

In the long run, becoming adept at the art of friendship will enrich your life[Tweet this]

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How do you distinguish between connections and friends? How important is it to you to cultivate friendships? Do you have online friends, and how did you meet them? Have you experienced digital chemistry? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.