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Relationship POTTY Training

Yes, I know the heading is odd but I promise it will leave a lasting impression on how to view relationships.

My son Christopher provides some of the best lessons for my writing and speaking. He is a tremendous relationship builder, taking advantage of every opportunity to meet and talk to new people.

Once, when he was a toddler, we were at the mall. I brought him to the restroom to do his business. While in there, Christopher was saying hello and starting conversations with everyone as they came and went. He was silent for a time and then suddenly said, "Daddy, I want to live here."

This brought some laughter from both me and others in the restroom. I then asked him why.

"Because everyone will come to visit me."

This, of course, resulted in even more laughter from everyone in the restroom. Upon reflection I found a lot of wisdom in his simple desire to build friendships. I refer to this concept as Relationship POTTY Training (as discussed in the following sections):

P—Put yourself in relationship’s way

O—Take advantage of relationship opportunities

T—Train for conversation

T—Try something different

Y—You have only the opportunity presented; take it

Put Yourself in Relationship’s Way

One of the most pressing challenges with networking effectively is that many professionals never take the time to go where such relationships can happen. I am not talking about meeting after work for drinks, which is something I neither recommend nor have ever taken part in.

Many of your co-workers and peers at other companies are part of philanthropic organizations or networking groups. These organizations are well-known relationship incubators, providing opportunities to meet with other professionals in a safe and effective environment.

And don’t overlook the less-obvious times you can be put in relationship’s way. For instance, stopping at the local coffee shop. While waiting for your high-priced, multisyllabic coffee concoction, say hello to someone. We are social animals and as such welcome a break in what is often an uncomfortable silence in public settings.

Often, little else is needed beyond that simple introduction. Eventually, conversations ensue, particularly when you see the same people day after day.

Take Advantage of Relationship Opportunities

How many times have you had a conversation with someone but did not get a business card, phone number, or email address? How many times have you seen someone reading something that interests you and not said hello or made an introduction? If you are like me, it happens too often. Effective networking requires taking some risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Those who do this continuously develop their network more quickly and more rapidly.

Train for Conversation

This is particularly important for IT professionals. The fact is, many IT professionals revert to shop talk or jargonized conversation. It is important to understand that your network will be much stronger if the relationships you create are not only with IT professionals. Learn to have general business and life conversations. Learn also to make your introduction and conversation-starting natural.

This conversation will become simpler with practice. Some keys to get you started are these:

  • Have a standard introduction. It can be something as simple as, "Hi, my name is Matt...and you are?"
  • Ask questions. People will remember you not for what you said but for what you asked them about.
  • Have an interest in people. I don’t know how to teach this, but if you do not like people in general, you need to understand why not and combat that tendency. It is a relationship-killer.

Try Something Different

Christopher chose the restroom as a great place to develop relationships. I don’t necessarily recommend that you wait in restrooms to meet people, but you should start to think differently about when and how relationships can be started. For instance, checking out of a store often provides an opportunity to say hello to someone. This is easier if there is a common interest point. For instance, if you are at an office supply store, and someone is purchasing something technically related, it is easy to ask them if their purchase is related to their job.

Once again, working on making conversation starters natural and having an interest in people is key to making this work.

You Have Only the Opportunity Presented; Take It

You work and live with people every day. When people leave a company, we often wish them well and that’s it. To develop the most dynamic and rewarding network possible, you have to take advantage of the opportunities you have.

When people leave your current employer, get their email addresses. Tell them you want to stay in touch with them from time to time. You can come right out and tell them you want to include them in your professional contacts. There are few people who do not understand the value of such relationships.

You might extend this even to those companies and people you have interviewed with in the past. Regardless of whether they hired you, you can develop professional contacts, checking in with them periodically. You might find that they view this as a distinguishing factor, separating you from others they interview.

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