I met up for lunch with a good friend and former coworker today, and among the topics of discussion was how we as professionals often neglect personal relationships when work and life get busy. I’ve found that to be especially true since I started working from home last year. I don’t miss a lot about working in an office setting, but I do long for the days of hallway conversations and working lunches with colleagues. When working in isolation, it can be easy to get into cocoon-mode, shutting out the rest of the world – to the detriment of interpersonal skills and relationships. Through my work as a professional presenter, I get to talk to a lot of people, but more often than not I’m talking to them in a group setting with little one-on-one interaction. While the former is useful for building a list of contacts, it doesn’t do much to truly build relationships.
Five years ago, in January of 2009, I set a goal for myself to have lunch or drinks with someone new – not necessarily a stranger, but someone with whom I had not spent any one-on-one face time – on a monthly basis. I exceeded that goal in a big way. And I don’t think it’s an accident that 2009 and 2010 were two of the biggest growth years of my career. I didn’t land any work directly as a result of those relationships – in fact, several of the people with whom I met weren’t business associates but personal acquaintances. For me, the bigger benefit was to get out of my comfort zone and get to know more people on a personal basis, whether or not I saw a direct career benefit to meeting with them. I firmly believe that, five years later, I’m still seeing benefits of getting out of that comfort zone. And just as importantly, I had a lot of fun!
So I’m going to rekindle this goal. Since it’s not January, I don’t have to call this a New Year’s resolution, but I’m going to commit to share a meal or drinks with someone new at least once a month (including this month) for the remainder of this year. I’ll hope that I exceed the goal as I did in 2009.
If you’re not regularly spending face time with peers and acquaintances, I would encourage you to give it a try. Go out for coffee with someone you meet at a professional event. Have lunch with an acquaintance. Even if it’s uncomfortable for you – no, especially if it’s uncomfortable for you – it can pay big dividends in the long run.