Professional Business Connections and Technology
Professional business connections can make or break your career. Therefore, it is essential to focus your energy on where it matters most. The fact is, online social media technologies are creating a whirlpool that can suck you in. One day, looking back at your career, you may realize that you’ve spend too much energy on the wrong connections. Creating and fostering networks starts early in one’s life, and you must never underestimate the value.
The Limits of Professional Business Connections
There is a correlation between a primate’s brain size and the average social group size with which they intimately interact. Robin Dunbar popularized this concept during the early 1990s. His hypothesis claims that one can easily maintain 150 stable relationships. But what is a “stable relationship”? According to Dunbar, it is one where you would comfortably invite a person for a drink when bumping into her in public.
Furthermore, Dunbar claims that the limit to the number of relationships is a direct function of the neocortex size. Due to the neocortical’s limited processing capacity, we do have a restriction on our ability to maintain deep relationships. I believe this is particularly true for professional business connections.
And today, technology trapped us in a whirlpool of social connections.
The New Normal of Professional Business Connections
Within less than one generation, everything changed. As a result, daily, we exposed ourselves to thousands of possible professional business connections. Consequently, we are stretching our neocortex to its limits.
Suddenly we need to observe body language in the dark. And we are relying on video images to build relationships—all of this without handshakes or even direct eye contact. More importantly, we are missing those unspoken hints.
On the other hand, we sometimes hesitate to trust. And sometimes we trust to quickly. We are all new at this, and we are still defining the rules of the game. Consequently, we are learning the tricks of the new trade on the fly.
A Spectrum of Online Connection Options
Notwithstanding an overstretched neocortical processor, there are benefits in using technology to grow professional business connections. I can make new “friends” or “connections” across the globe while sitting at my desk. And I frequently use online tools to establish these connections. We can meet in a virtual space and learn from each other. Exchange ideas and take the relationship to the next level. And, if we are lucky, we may shake hands one day in a real-world, like old friends.
But most of these professional business connections stay shallow relationships. However, the temptation of seeing and being seen are enormous. For some, it is a competition, piling up likes, friends and connections. It provides them with a kick.
The question is, where on the spectrum do you spend your time? Or must I rather say waste? The shallow or intimate relationships? Are you aiming for quantity or quality?
Technology, an enabler for professional business connection
At its best, technology is a significant relationship enabler or can be incredibly useless. It all depends on how you think about it and use it. Andrew Sobel popularised the following intimacy matrix. The success of your network and the value it will add to you will depend on where you focus the most.
First of all, you can employ technology as an online tool to network with likeminded people with the same interest. I call them connections. Some may see them as a landscape of possible contacts. You probably don’t know them, and never meet them before. There may be thousands of these connections in your network, but there’s no form of friendship.
An objective would be to broaden your network of contacts, to learn from these contacts, and share information of common interest. Per definition, these relationships will be superficial, the familiarity low, but the number of connections high. In some cases, extremely high.
The online tools you use to create these connections will give you a so-called ranking in the network. These ranking mechanisms are not always obvious, but they may use the quality of the content you share and the number of likes you get.
For some, this ranking is the be-all and end-all. Spending time in this segment should be focussed on identifying those professional business connections that could provide value in the future.
Soon you will realize that you have frequent interactions with a particular group of “friends” or “connections”. You will start sharing targetted ideas and assist these relationships with introductions to connections outside there network. However, this is still not an in-person relationship with a high degree of respect and trust. And the number is limited, maybe a hundred or more, at maximum. What brings you together is a common interest in a specific subject.
The objective is to deepen the relationship with these professional business connections and understand what makes them tick. Eventually you want them to become part of your trusted network.
Therefore, it is not a bad idea to spend energy on these connections. But don’t expect too much. You are still a relative stranger to them and will only assist you so much on a professional level.
On the other hand, you may meet some individuals face-to-face. You may notify your connections about your participation at an event, and schedule a rendevous. For instance, you may have a shared interest within a particular industry and connect at industry-specific events. At such an event, you may meet ten to twenty possible associates, and over a year, you may collect a hundred or more business cards.
The objective would be to identify those with who you can create a deeper trust relationship. In the end, you want these professional business connections to trust you.
One thing you should remember; at this point, these professional business connections are mere associates. I frequently observe that people expect too much from this relationship too soon. The fact that somebody exchanged business cards, looked you in the eyes, and shook your hand does not create a trusted relationship.
And then there are the few with whom you do have a deep connection. These are the stable connections Dunbar refers to and the people that will walk the extra mile for you. In the future, they will be fundamental to your success. They are the ones that will vouch for you. More importantly, they will trust you to assist them as well. As a typical introvert, I only have a handful of these relationships.
Your main goal is to nurture these relationships. Spend quality time with them frequently. Up to 80% of your business relationship energy must go into this quadrant. And, often ask yourself how you can develop a deeper connection and more trust with these relationships.
More importantly, try to understand this trusted network’s connections. They are the ones that will introduce and recommend you within their network. Because a large part of your success will depend on the professional network you can access.
Bottom line: Trusted professional business connections will open doors. There may be a new world of opportunities behind the door. With our limited capacity to manage stable relationships, we need to find the strength to focus on what matters. But more importantly, we need the discipline to turn off the distractions.
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