Creating Relationships That Matter

Team Huddle Harmony Togetherness Happiness Concept“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

Tired of networking? If you’re like most people, you probably are. After all, who really feels good about getting out there to pursue business or job leads? Actually, not too many of us. In fact, according to one study, career-oriented, or instrumental, networking can leave people “…feeling somehow bad about themselves – even dirty.”

By contrast, spontaneous networking in pursuit of emotional support and friendship does not have this affect. So, meeting new people in social situations is generally less stressful, and can lead to more meaningful relationships. Not only that, but friends enhance your well-being. Making sure you have friends in all parts of your life builds a social support community that can enrich your life. Frankly, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point, the best-networked people have a knack for making for making friends and acquaintances – often from diverse walks of life. You can too, and here are five tips that can help.

Become Your Own Best Friend. Counterintuitive as it may seem, you can’t be your best for others until you can be your best for yourself. If you want some quick tips on how to be your own best friend, you can always find them on line. Personally, I feel this is actually a deeper process that includes understanding who are, what you value, what you want out of life, and what you have to offer others. Even if you have some degree of self-understanding, you can always deepen it. So, I most often recommend using a process to attain greater personal clarity via introspection and external feedback.

Evaluate Your Relationships. Unless you truly are a hermit, you are no doubt connected to a lot of people. The question is, where do those people show up in your life, and what is the quality of those relationships? According to Shasta Nelson, you can benefit from thinking about the people in your life as falling into one of five friendship circles based on levels of consistent contact and intimacy:

  • Contact Friends are people you’re friendly with when we see them in a shared context, say at a class, but with whom we share little intimacy.
  • Common Friends are people with whom you share a common activity, but also with whom you make an effort to expand the relationship, making the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom you have expanded your relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.
  • Committed Friends are people with whom you have intimately and consistently shared your lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  • Confirmed Friends are people with whom you share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when your connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes a bit easier to see your various relationship circles and figure out where and with whom to invest more time. Remember, though, that these circles are always in flux with people moving from one circle to another based on what’s going on in everyone’s life.

Be Sure To Establish Friends At Work. Most people tend to think about their coworkers as, well … coworkers. So, while they may enjoy their company at work, they usually don’t nurture friendships. If that’s the case for you, change it. Why? Research has found that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction!

Get Out And Play. One of the best places to meet new people is during leisure time activities. So, whether you attend a class, are a regular at the gym, volunteer in your community, or participate in social activities with other people, you have the opportunity to start new friendships. Often conversations flow naturally around the activity, and can get the ball rolling to learn about other interests of the people you meet. Just make sure to leave your elevator pitch at home and take a genuine interest in truly listening and getting to know others.

Use Social Media. With the explosion of social media usage, it would seem that meeting people and nurturing friendships online would be natural. Only it’s not. The fact is, many people tend to segment their social media usage into categories. For example, using LinkedIn for business contacts and Facebook for family and friends. Yet, breaking down those walls can have real benefits. Specifically, connecting with people you know on multiple platforms (including, yes, Instagram and Snapchat) leads to more interactions across more areas of interest, allowing relationships to grow. Even better, learning how to engage new people consistently, in meaningful ways, and on various platforms can be the basis for new friendships.

Take Small Steps. Relationships take time, and require consistent small touch points that lead to more shared experiences. Actually, this is a good thing because it removes the sense of urgency so often connected with business networking, and it allows relationships to flourish more naturally. Remember friendship is an art. It emerges from exchanged pleasantries, shared experiences, insightful moments, and growing affection all taking place in small steps over time. Yet, take those small steps with enough people and before you know it you’ll find yourself not only well connected but also happier.

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!

Why It’s Important To Find Belonging

“I want my real life to be as fun as the one I paid for.” ~ Doug Harris (Josh Gad)

Group Of Friends Enjoying Drink At Outdoor Rooftop BarI don’t know about you, but sometimes we rent movies that we think of as mindless entertainment. They can be fun, but often not enlightening. So, it always amazes me, on those rare occasions, when one of these movies makes a great point.

So it was with the Kevin Hart movie, The Wedding Ringer. In it Kevin plays Jimmy Callahan, a “wedding services consultant” who provides best man services for guys without friends. In the process he shows his client, Doug Harris, played by Josh Gad, what having a full life can be like! Not only does Jimmy serve as best man, but assembles a misfit group of groomsmen, throws him a bachelor party, and in the process shows Doug the best time of his life!

It got me thinking how important friends and a feeling of belonging are to living a full life.

Unfortunately, as Gad’s character discovers, keeping our relationships narrowly focused on work can be a big mistake. And too many of us are guilty of it. Often, we let an obsession with becoming better networkers hold us back from building longer and stronger relationships. [Tweet this] That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage.

Make A Diverse Array of Friends

As I see it, we do well to recognize opportunities to make friends in a variety of situations, both in person and online. In some cases, doing so can mean stepping outside your comfort zone to put yourself “out there.” Yet, since most people focus mostly on building relationships related to business, let’s consider friends at work.

In his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, business, health, and well-being author Tom Rath points out that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction! [Tweet this]

Add to these findings, the perspectives of his latest book, Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, and you begin to see the impact of meaningful human interactions and relationships on the quality of your life.

Don’t limit yourself to work friends, though. Let’s face it variety is the spice of life, and this is true of relationships.  So, seek out friends from a diverse array of ages, genders, ethnicities, and locations. Interacting with people from around the world can broaden your perspectives, and enrich your human experience. [Tweet this] Fortunately, this is much easier than ever in today’s social media rich world.

It Comes Down To Belonging

Friendship comes down to belonging. Yet, although “circle of friends” is a well known metaphor, we don’t often think of the groups of people to whom we “belong.” Perhaps it’s because too many of us still cling to the distinction of friends and acquaintances. [Tweet this] While we think of friends as people who we can trust and rely on, acquaintances are “just” people we know. Frankly, this is not a helpful distinction.

A better distinction is one made by GirlFriendCircles.com founder Shasta Nelson, who sees five circles of friendship based on levels of consistency and intimacy. In her model:

  • Contact Friends are people we are friendly with when we see them in a shared context, say at a class, but with whom we share little intimacy.
  • Common Friends are people with whom share a common activity, but also with whom we make an effort to expand the relationship, and who make the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom we have expanded our relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.Three mature ladies smiling
  • Committed Friends are people with whom we have intimately and consistently shared our lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  •  Confirmed Friends are people with whom we share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when our connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes easier to see our various relationship circles. And when we can see that it becomes easier to enhance our belonging across multiple circles of friends.

Why Bother?

Studies show that belonging enhances your well-being. Yet, if you need a more pragmatic reason, consider this: When you belong, you don’t usually need to worry about getting help from others. You just ask. And naturally, you’re always ready to return the favor. So, imagine if this were true in every part of your life – from getting support for your fitness goals to finding new work. Whatever it is, the support of others helps you be successful at much of what you want to achieve in life.

So, as Doug Harris discovered, imagine how great your life would be if you enhanced your belonging across all your circles of friendship.

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.

Why Making Friends Matters To Your Success

Make FriendsAh, networking and relationships! How well they fit together into a larger framework of success. And while it’s easy to complain about having to network, most of us want success. So, we work at becoming better networkers. I get it.

Still, I often feel an obsession with becoming better networkers can blind us to what it takes to build longer and stronger relationships. That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage. Okay. Yes. I’m talking about friendship.

What Networking Often Lacks

If you’re like me, and a lot of other people, you know that having the right connections is critical to success. You also know that those relationships often come your way via networking. At a most pragmatic level, you realize that growing and tapping into networks opens doors. You may also be starting to see that the broader your network, coupled with your ability to navigate it, the more valuable you become.

Of course, while giving a passing acknowledgement that “relationships matter,” many people keep their eye on the prize. That is, they pursue specific new opportunities, such as qualified prospects and sales or job leads. In short, networking often becomes transactional.

This networking approach too often leads to shallow connections. What’s more, it’s typically transparent and off-putting. Nor is it a sustainable approach to achieving continued success. After all, there’s little long-term benefit in linking with people with whom you have only passing acquaintance. Most often, the people who think of you, when they see a relevant opportunity, know you well, and like and trust you. [Tweet this] Those kinds of relationships take time to build.

 Genuine Sharing, Genuine Caring

Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of the transactional mindset has been the common advice that networking is about “giving to get.” It’s not. So, approaching it that way is a turn off. Overall, I believe the sounder approach is to focus more on creating and nurturing bonds with others.

Traditionally, people have developed and strengthened their bonds via meeting up for coffee, meals, and other shared activities. Clearly, meeting in-person is a key part of cultivating relationships. These days, however, you also can take advantage of technology tools to support bonding. Used well, social media increases your ambient awareness and supports brief interactions over time. [Tweet this] As a result, you can interact more regularly, adding depth to your relationships.

Yet, however we connect, basic social niceties matter. When you begin to pay attention to the little things in other people’s lives, you not only get to know them better, but also may discover more areas of shared interest. And the more you do, the stronger your bonds can become.

A Lot Like Making Friends

Over time, as bonds become stronger, you may find you have the basis for true friendship. If so, it’s worth investing more in those relationships. For as Shasta Nelson points out in her excellent book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen!  Although making friends seems like it ought to be automatic, it’s not. In fact, she says, if you’re simply waiting for friendships to develop, chances are you may be well networked but lonely. [Tweet this]

So what’s it take to develop friendships?

Well, genuine sharing and genuine caring. And time. In Shasta’s words,

“The strength of our friendship isn’t as dependent on how much we like each other, but more on how much time we spend together developing our friendship in broader and deeper ways.  …two primary factors that create friendship…[are]… consistency and intimacy.  …consistency is regular time spent together, and intimacy is sharing that extends to a broad range of subjects and increases in vulnerability.”

Since these factors can change with time and circumstances, there are different categories of friendship. Yet, a key point to grasp is this: Making, keeping, and even changing friends is perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to have. [Tweet this]  Especially if you want to enhance the overall quality of your life.

Friends Are Key To Life Success

An old saying reminds us that on their deathbed no one says, “I wished I’d spent more time in the office.” It’s a sad reminder that in the pursuit of success, people can miss out on life. Yet, if we measure success based on a better quality of life, then friendship is surely a critical element. In reimagining success, it’s clear that while networking is driven by self-interest, making friends is about enlightened self-interest. [Tweet this]

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Friends and SuccessBeing a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, and even enhanced longevity.

I will have more to say about friendships in future posts. Meanwhile, even if you already have friends, you could probably make more. Look for opportunities to make new ones both in-person and online.

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What are your perspectives on friendship? How are you making friends?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that are at the basis of your friendships? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.