By Rachel Happe Principal and Co-Founder, The Community Roundtable
Success requires relationships. Whether you measure your success by happiness, wealth, family or some other measure, relationships figure prominently. There is emerging research to suggest that lack of relationships and connection is actually a bigger determinant of addiction than the physical piece. We need each other and the better we do at building a network of relationships that supports us when we are struggling, challenges us when we could be better and celebrates with us when we succeed the more successful we will be.
When we are connected online, it allows us to see the little markers of a relationship that are harder to see offline. Who is interested in what I care about? Who responds and how to negative posts? positive ones? more authentic ones? How do I find and start interacting with people who care about the same things I do?
Now not everyone is online and using online networks to maintain relationships and, like most people, my closest relationships do not play out digitally. An outside observer could probably not determine from my online interactions who my closest friends and colleagues are. To me, that’s as it should be – I still and will always want those relationships to happen in person.
However, for me, online is the best way I know to stay in touch with my broader network, which includes extended family members, friends in far away places, past colleagues and people who share a similar personal or professional passion. They are both my weak ties and what I call my latent strong ties, those people I used to be very close to and trust but don’t have the occasion to see regularly.
I have a broad and diverse extended network and I love it because it represents my edges and the place where I am mostly likely to learn and most likely to find new relationships that are potentially very rewarding. As an entrepreneur that network is absolutely vital. As a person, it’s what keeps my mind and heart fed.
But I hate networking.
Why? Networking – and all that it conjurers up – is mercenary. It’s building relationships in the hope that someone can do something for you. It’s waiting until you are needy to build relationships. The people who generally want to build relationships with needy people are abusive in some way. That is NOT how anyone should start a new relationship. The balance of power is off.
A post by Venkataraman Ramachandran – Networking is BS And Other Truths About Human Relationships – inspired me to think about this because looking objectively at my network, you might conclude I am a good networker, and yet I hate it. It brings back memories of standing stiffly at conferences in my 20s trying to related to older men with tie clips and trying desperately to find something to talk about. So what do I do that’s not networking and yet creates a large, diverse network?
I love connecting.
Connecting is about sharing a moment with someone. There is no expectation of more. Maybe it’s your love of Prince’s music. Maybe it’s an idea about how to be more productive. There is no pressure and no expectation. Two people can just share a moment of joy. It’s part of the reason I will chat with anyone on Twitter. Others may look at that as a waste of time but connecting with people brings me moments of joy in my day. That has real value – especially since I work at home and don’t have those moments with others that I did when I worked in an office.
How relationships happen.
This proclivity to connect does lead to some amazing relationships. How?
Relationships are like tennis volleys. You serve something up. Someone returns the volley, perhaps with a little more power. You match that power and maybe escalate to test their skill and interest. Maybe they return the volley, maybe they let the ball drop – maybe you let the ball drop. That gives you a pretty good indication of whether you are both ready to play at a new level. It’s how relationships have always worked but it’s easier to see online. It’s also easy to see when people’s relationship meters are off because they keep serving to someone who keeps letting the ball drop. Or they are needy, having waited until a need arrived to reach out. Online it’s put into stark relief and easier to evaluate and process appropriately.
Online, making little, micro, connections is so easy. All I have to do is reach out and engage with people. Comment on their posts. Say hello. Answer a question. You can serve a lot of balls to people in pretty short order – and to people around the globe.
Taking on a community management approach is the way I’ve build my network – it is a lot like digital gardening. A little weeding and watering every day. I do it in the margins – in the five minutes I have between meetings or when I need a mental break between work projects. And I do it strategically, attuned to the topics and people I care most about. Essentially, strategic simply means that I have a clear idea about what I want and care about in life.
So how can you do it?
Community management is all about being strategic about your engagement – done well, it creates vibrant, interesting networks that will be there to support, challenge and celebrate with you.
- Be clear about what you care about and seek those people and topics out.
- Reach out to them.
- Ask questions.
- Share your thoughts.
- Comment on their writing.
- Share it.
What do you do every day to connect and find joy?