Developing professional relationships is an art form, whether it’s through sales, partnerships, or networking. It can take years to master the process of building professional connections, and there are always new things to learn when connecting with others face-to-face.
However, with the recent shift to a remote workforce, building professional relationships has become more complex as individuals are faced with figuring out new ways to nurture, grow, maintain these professional relationships from their homes.
To help explain some of the basics of nurturing professional relationships remotely, we enlisted the help of Sandy Merich, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Computer Enterprises Inc. (CEI), an IT services provider. Sandy provided us with some of the best tips he’s collected throughout his years of professional experience engaging with external stakeholders while in various roles. Discover some of Sandy’s top tips below and be sure to listen to our conversation with Sandy on the InnerView Podcast.
One of the most essential tips for remotely nurturing professional relationships is to use video conferencing instead of audio-only calls. Since remote work means people cannot gather in the same physical space, video is the next best option for numerous reasons.
Video allows individuals to read the facial expressions and body language of the other participants on the call, which can illuminate highly beneficial information that is not verbally spoken. Furthermore, video puts a face to the name, which helps with remembering people. It also makes connecting with others easier than audio-only, as humans are visual creatures. Lastly, video shows when an individual is engaged in the meetings because it is much harder to multitask or be distracted by the likes of cellphones, emails, and laundry since everyone can see what you are doing.
Speaking of distractions, we have all seen the person on the video call whose eyes are not looking at the screen. Chances are their head is tilted slightly downwards, and they have gone quiet on the call. Yep, it is the serial scroller.
When someone is on their phone, even if it is just for 30 seconds to check a notification, a professional connection can be ruined if the other party notices. Not only is it disrespectful, but it also communicates that the person is uninterested and has more important things going on. Therefore, no matter how tempting it may be to check emails or social media when someone else is speaking or when a notification appears on your phone, be sure to wait until after the meeting ends until you pick up the device.
In the realm of sales and partnerships, professionals are frequently taught to keep the conversation going by continuously talking. This is due to various reasons, including conveying they have deep product knowledge, projecting confidence, filling ‘awkward’ silences, and keeping the customer on the line allows for more time to close a sale or uncover the desired information.
While speaking is obviously crucial, listening is just as vital. People want to be heard, so ensure everyone participating in a meeting has a chance to speak and communicate their ideas, problems, thoughts, concerns, questions, etc. Furthermore, be sure to actively listen and retain the information being expressed. Some advice for retaining information includes recording the call (If everyone on the call is aware it is being recorded and provides consent), taking detailed notes, and asking follow-up questions to better understand the situation.
Going off the last tip, remembering specifics about other parties can go a long way when forging relationships. It shows interest in the other party and conveys that they are a priority by mentioning little (or big) details that they might not expect you to remember.
Specifics can include personal details such as asking how their son’s baseball season is going, remembering their husband’s name, or asking how their vacation was last month. Remembering specifics is an excellent way of impressing others and making them feel important while also allowing the conversation to become more casual. Furthermore, you’ll gain more insight into the individual’s life and who they are as a person, which can positively impact how you converse with them moving forward.
Professionals are consistently in situations that require a polished and businesslike attitude. Humor can be utilized in professional conversations to get past this barrier, as humor can be a great way to ease tension and make conversations less stiff. However, before introducing humor, it is vital to understand the other parties’ personalities and assess the atmosphere to determine whether humor is appropriate. You do not want to mix humor into a conversation where it is not welcome.
Lastly, sensitive, polarizing, or touchy subjects should be avoided at all costs when building professional connections. Sensitive topics can sour a relationship in a matter of seconds if parties have opposing views. For example, some subjects that should be actively avoided are politics, tragic events, finances, coworkers, and current events (use discretion here). If the conversation leads to an undesirable topic, it is a good idea to stay neutral and attempt to quickly guide the conversation to ‘safer’ ground.
While this list is not exhaustive, it is a great starting point for anyone in a professional environment, especially those in external-facing roles. So, the next time you go to communicate remotely with a client, a potential customer, business partner, or even a coworker, try to incorporate some of these tips to elevate your communication skills and nurture the relationship.
If you are interested in more content in the realm of recruiting, conquering the job search, career advice, and more, be sure to check out our other InnerView podcasts here.