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9 Secrets to Building Relationships Outside of the Office

9 Secrets to Building Relationships Outside of the Office
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    Today, I’m an election judge for the Maryland primary. Sure, you can say that I’m doing it because of my personal politics, but there is an added payoff: I’m going to meet hundreds of people that I’ve never seen before.

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    I work from home, so it can be hard for me to find ways to interact with real, live people — but I’d argue that many those of you with a commute have the same issue: outside of those people that you see every day, how often do you connect with anyone new? Online buddies don’t count, either. As valuable as an online connection may be, face-to-face conversations can be the fastest way to build a real relationship, whether you’re trying to sell something or get a date.

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    We get out of the habit of talking to new people fairly quickly, but it’s an important skill. New people bring innovation and possibilities to your attention. Even beyond the necessity of networking in order to help your career, making new friends can help keep you from stagnating, from sinking into the same routine day in and day out. There are a few actions you can take to improve your relationship-building skills.

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    1. Go to where the people are! Volunteer for a big event, attend a conference or join a club. While it’s possible to meet people hanging around the local coffee shop, it can be harder — your prospective contact may not be interested in interacting with anyone except the barista. However, at events and club activities, people show up ready to talk.
    2. Make eye contact. I ‘borrowed’ this technique from one of the Comfort Challenges in Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek”: Ferriss suggests spending two days when you make eye contact with people you encounter, from those you already know to those you see on the street. Beyond becoming comfortable with new people, this activity gives you an opportunity to make conversation, even if it starts out on the “What are you looking at?” level.
    3. Prepare an elevator speech. An elevator speech is a 30 second pitch, a description of your project, which I know sounds like more of a marketing skill than a relationship-builder. But being able to boil down who you are and what you do can jumpstart a conversation — especially if your pitch piques interest. Some people rely on elevator speeches that showcase what they can do for their new contacts, while others rely on pitches that demonstrate what a contact can do for them. Either way, it’s worth thinking about why you want to make new contacts, and including that information in your elevator pitch.
    4. Don’t limit your options. I know most of my fellow election judges are much older than me (60 seems to be the average age, even with me bringing it down), which isn’t the age group I have the most in common with. Just because I don’t have much in common with them, however, doesn’t mean that I should ignore them. Personally, I think it means I should talk to them more — I can learn more from someone with very different experiences.
    5. Carry business cards, or some other method of providing your contact information. Business cards aren’t necessary, but they do make life easier, especially if you want to give other people an easy method of staying in touch. Even a simple card with just your name, phone number and email address is worthwhile — your goal may not be to make connections for your employer, so using their cards could be less than ideal.
    6. Avoid wasting time. I know that I hate people that drone on and on about something I have no interest in. I feel like they’re wasting my time. I try to avoid doing it to anyone else, either. Instead, I make a point of holding a conversation — you know, that thing where all parties get a chance to talk — with a topic that is (hopefully) interesting to everyone concerned. A further caveat: I also always try to be genuine. It isn’t too hard to tell if someone isn’t and that can feel like just as much of a waste of time as a droner.
    7. Write down details. I forget names, dates and details regularly, so I make an effort to write things down. I find business cards are great for this sort of thing: if I have a person’s business card, I write on the back when and where I met them and why, along with relevant details. I also add this sort of information to the ‘notes’ field that most electronic address books offer.
    8. Follow up on your new connections. If you get a business card, a phone number or even a website, make a point of following up. Without any sort of follow up, that great connection that you just made will never see you again, which doesn’t make for a very effective relationship. And, if you said you were going to do something (pass along a name to a friend, email a link, etc.), just do it!
    9. Don’t stress. It’s okay if a few fishies get away. You don’t absolutely have to make every contact possible, and you certainly don’t have to maintain ongoing relationships with every person you meet. It’s not worth worrying about. Instead, try to focus on making the most of a small number of contacts, Even one new connection can be worthwhile, if you’re willing to devote some time to furthering the relationship.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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