Last Updated Oct 18, 2007 7:17 PM EDT
Whether you work in a busy office or by yourself at home, you need to have good working relationships and regular contact with fellow workers in order to get things done. For the home worker these relationships are especially important: if you neglect them, you might eventually feel isolated and out of the loop. You can protect yourself from some of the downsides of being away from your colleagues by maintaining a strong working network. Your network can also provide benefits that contribute significantly to your effectiveness:
- by gathering, processing, and passing on information you need
- by obtaining services or items necessary to your work
- by sharing insight, ideas, opportunities, and expertise with you
- by doing work that you delegate
- by passing on information to others
- by making decisions that help you to proceed
With great care and attention. Contacting people only when you need help is likely to make them dread the sound of your voice or the sight of an e-mail from you. Relationships need regular oiling between times to ensure they are ready when you need them. Ask your contacts regularly if there's anything you can do to help them. Be generous.
If it has been a long time between contacts, mention the content of previous conversations and bring them up to date on something they may have helped you with. Take notes after each contact to jog your memory when you make the next contact. By recalling the previous contact, you will make an excellent impression and create trust and rapport.
Take a large sheet of blank paper and create a Mind Map(r), a concept created by the management thinker Tony Buzan. A Mind Map(r) is a graphical representation of your thoughts and ideas and, like a road map, gives you an overview of a large area and enables you to make the connections that get you to your destination.
First, you want to identify the groups of key contacts you currently maintain. Start with a circle in the center of the paper. In the circle write "Key Contacts." Then choose a color and, around the hub, write in your main contact groups. Then connect these to the hub with lines. This is the network that helps you do your day-to-day work. From here you branch out to include the names of the people in each group.
Now, using a different color, identify and write in the types of contacts who could be helpful to you in the future. The first color—your network of main contacts—are those you have regular contact with and who you know will be available to help. The second color represents the network you need to build—the groups of people with the potential to help you. You will see how quickly your network grows, even before you have listed the names of the people in these groups.
Be sure to create and begin building this second network before you need its help. Well connected people often seem to have more luck than others, finding themselves in the right place at the right time. In fact, luck has nothing to do with it. They have worked hard at making the connections that lead to their destination—the big assignment, important new customer, or the job they have always dreamed of.
How you stay in touch with your colleagues depends on you, the person you want to contact, and the circumstances. Here are a few guidelines:
- E-mail works well for collaborating on attached files and when you need to refer later to your correspondence. It is especially useful for global communication, in which time differences make phone contact difficult.
- Phone calls do well when you need a quick answer to a question or expect a lot of dialogue between you and your contact.
- Face-to-face contact is best for delegating work, delivering feedback on performance, and for any sort of negotiation.
- Instant messaging can simulate a conversation and take place in the background, much as it would in an office that has an open plan.
You should start by considering the method by which you contact each of the people in your current network and how often you need to contact them in order to maintain a strong relationship. You may want to follow a pattern of:
- making contact;
- keeping it sincere;
- keeping it brief;
- making it a habit.
Maintaining the relationship should not turn into an unpleasant task. Occasionally change the routine and meet for:
- a meal at a restaurant;
- drinks at a bar;
- a golf outing;
- a theater performance.
Relationships that are genuine and comfortable are easy to maintain. So it is important for you to find ways in which to make people feel comfortable and confident during your interactions. This does not mean making small talk about sales figures or handing out insincere compliments. Paying close attention to what the other person considers important will make a real difference in your relationships. You especially want to maintain the rapport you already have with your current network. This means having regular brief communication, with face-to-face meetings at convenient times. You should also make a point of being as visibly involved with the company as possible by attending office social functions, such as product launches, retirement parties, team lunches, and holiday events.
If you expect to build a second network of contacts, it is essential that you actively seek new relationships. If you meet a new business associate and swap business cards and never follow up, your network will never grow. However, by being proactive and sending the person a brief note or e-mail after a few days, suggesting a future meeting, your first meeting will have a chance of developing into a relationship..
Relying on too few contacts may mean that they become overworked. Try to expand your network, so that you can spread out your requests for help.
If you want to maintain your relationship with your contacts, do not forward every joke to them that arrives in you inbox. When you finally do need to contact them for help, you may discover that they no longer accept e-mail from your e-mail address or simply delete e-mail from you before reading it.
Buzan World: www.buzanworld.com
Webgrrls International: www.webgrrls.com/wfs.jhtml?/career/advice/insight.phtml