I have been reading “Consequential Strangers” by Blau & Fingerman and it is so rich with information, I can’t seem to get through more than 5-8 pages at a time due to all of the notes I am taking. That being said, they use the term “social convoy” and it refers to all of the people you meet through the course of your life. I have taken a very special interest in this term since I have spent the past 8 months or so really evaluating the idea of “connecting” to others and all that it entails. It is certainly not a passive activity by any means and takes concentrated & focused effort if you are to be successful.
I don’t believe we really think about our relationships in the manner we need to if they are to flourish. (Of course, I am projecting my own thoughts to anyone reading this so please do not be offended.) It is one of those things that we just “do” as part of our normal existence (like breathing) but don’t really think about it. When was the last time you actually thought about how successful you have been in creating and/or maintaining relationships in the context of your life? I have done just this recently and the results were not pretty.
Let me digress for a minute. I am not a “people person”…plain & simple. In fact, if you asked many of my friends to name the one thing I was not, 99% of them would nail it with one shot. To go one level deeper, this is exactly why I was down-sized from my last job. I was not perceived as being “approachable” or “friendly” and people said I was “stand-offish” or “aloof”. The irony in this is that only the people who did not know me said this. Those who did work closely with me thought it was the farthest thing from the truth. Talk about being schizophrenic! So when I began to see that this was one of my challenges, I also became determined to do something about it because I really did not think that was who I was. It was the persona I had created for myself on the surface but below that I care fiercely about those close to me as well as spending a great deal of time helping out whoever needs it. The key is that I am great one on one but not at all if groups. This is why technology has been such a gift for me. I can connect to people one on one on a large scale. I would never have been able to make contact with many of the wonderful people I trade emails with or bounce ideas off of if it were not for the Internet. I am much more comfortable then meeting them face to face because at some level, we already know each other. Now let’s climb back out of the rabbit hole.
I tend to look at things in an “organic” way. I think it is because I come from a rural community and grew up being surrounded by farms. I view relationships as being something that need tended to. It is not like you can plant a seed and just walk away and wait to harvest the grain months later. The soil needs prepared, the seeds planted, the young plants need nourished and cared for, and then (hopefully) you have something to harvest. Relationships are just like that. Starting them is easy, growing them is something different altogether! The fact is that people change and the relationships need to age as well as they cannot stay the same when the people in them are different. Plain and simple, you have to actively tend to your relationships in order to ensure they remain vibrant. (This could lead into the discussion of social capital but I think that is another post altogether.)
Now for the main point of this posting. People need attention and since relationships are made up of people, relationships need attention (A=B, B=C, therefore A=C?). This said there are many tools at our disposal and it is best to leverage as many as you can depending on the situation. Remember that you cannot have your “style” and everybody can just deal with it. If you want to nurture relationships, reach out the people in the manner they enjoy.
New School(otherwise known as technology-enabled):
- Meeting for coffee
- Writing a letter
- Calling on the phone
- Sharing a meal (with no purpose other than catching up)
I would suggest that you blend these and try a true multi-channel strategy. Technology provides speed but there is certainly something very special about a handwritten letter that means much more to me than an email. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the technological advancements but also lament that we seem to value speed/quantity over quality when it comes to communication.
Now the great thing that social media tools have shown us is that our communication needs to be authentic and transparent if it is going to be embraced by the receiver(s).The foundation of all relationships is TRUST and that requires RISK. You have to be willing to show others “the man behind the curtain” in order to gain that trust.
I beg of you, take some time each week and write a note or two, send an email, or give someone a call to catch up. In addition, try to write at least one note/letter/email each week to someone in your life that has impacted it positively and tell them so. That will bring immeasurable joy to your friend and that is certainly a worthy cause in which to invest your time. Come on, get the watering can out and begin to pour…we could all use a drink!