How to grow and nurture strong professional relationships

Forget networking at events. Use these two principles to grow and nurture strong professional relationships with people you know, like and trust.
Oct 16
Title: How to grow and nurture strong professional relationships

A friend often tells me she is super-impressed by my networking skills. 

To be honest I don't think of what I do, as networking.

I associate the word 'networking' with coffee breaks at events or conferences. A frantic rush for caffeine and food followed by people trying to avoid eye contact without the fear of having to awkwardly juggle eating, drinking and engaging in a conversation with someone they barely know.

This kind of networking is common. But I find it stressful and ineffective.

I mean, the whole point of networking is to grow and nurture relationships with people you know, like and trust.

It is difficult to make a good first impression when you're worried about spilling food down the front of your shirt. 

It's difficult to nurture relationships during a coffee break at a conference that is held only once a year.

And it's also difficult to be yourself in this kind of environment if you're an introvert like me.

So I use a different approach to grow and nurture professional relationships.

How I grow and nurture relationships

Unlike the tons of advice out there on how to build professional relationships, I use only two principles to guide me.1

  • 1
    GROW strong professional relationships by connecting with people who energise you.
  • 2
    NURTURE strong professional relationships by telling them why you appreciate them.

When I consistently apply these two principles:

  • I make more meaningful and memorable connections because I like the people I connect with.
  • I am more successful at my job because people want to work with people they know and like.
  • And I know people will respond when I need them to because they know I would do the same for them.

So if you want to try a different approach to networking, here are some ways you can apply these principles to inspire and build confidence in yourself and others.

Networking principles: 1. Grow strong professional relationships by connecting with people who energise you. 2. Nurture strong professional relationships by telling them why you appreciate them. #TheLibraryBoss

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Connect with people who energise you

When you invest in connecting with people who energise you, you are not collecting friends, followers or Linkedin connections. Quality is more important than quantity.

Who energises you?

Think about the professional relationships you already have.

Make a list of the people that come to mind when  you answer the following questions.

  • Who inspires you? 
  • Who motivates you to keep going?
  • Is there someone who makes you laugh?
  • Who gives you a sense of purpose?
  • Who lifts you up everytime you meet them?
  • And who helps you do your best work?

These are the people you want to have more meaningful conversations with.

Who inspires you? Motivates you to keep going? Makes you laugh? Lifts you up every time you meet them? Helps you do your best work? These are the people you want to have more meaningful conversations with. #TheLibraryBoss

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Where do you find them?

There are many ways to grow the number of people who energise you in your network.

The most obvious, is to think about all the other people you know but don't have a meaningful connection with. 

They don't have to work with you. They don't have to be in the same industry, and they don't even have to be someone you've met.

You might have been inspired by a presentation they gave, an article they wrote, or a podcast episode they produced. Or you might follow them on social media.

It's your network, so you can include anybody you want.

So make a list of whoever comes to mind when you answer the same questions above.

Reaching out to people on this list will require a bit more courage, but imagine how much of a buzz you would get if your first conversation with them, led to another!

How do you connect with them?

Again, there are many ways to connect with others but these 4 things are essential:

  1. Be yourself. Make the most of what you're good at and enjoy doing. Coffee dates, phone calls, email, popping into someone's office, finding projects to work on together, social media - whatever feels the most comfortable (or the least scary 🙂 ). I like to mix it up based on how well I know the person and how our paths cross.
  2. Make time. Add 'connect with people who energise me' to your to-do list - I guarantee it will make you smile if you do! You might organise coffee once a month, or add thoughtful responses to tweets in 5 minute bursts each day. But it won't happen if you don't make time for it. 
  3. Be generous. Consider the value you add to the relationship. Find ways to give more than you receive. You may have experience, expertise or contacts. You may also be a great listener, accountability buddy or cheerleader. Or you may simply send them a link to something that you know will resonate with them.
  4. Start now. It can take years to grow and nurture strong professional relationships. Start now.

Now that you have some ideas on how to grow strong professional relationships, let's look at how you can nurture them.

Tell people why you appreciate them

It is important to nurture strong professional relationships by letting the people who energise you, know why you appreciate them.

Why?

It's easy to think people we look up to know what they are doing, and that they also know when they do great things. 

But many have no idea how important they are to us. For example, someone may think they need to be more serious and less humourous. But their humour is what makes your rough day easier to bear. So, if you don't tell them, how do you expect them to know?

Let them know.

How?

First of all it must be sincere and not just to make the other person feel good.

You don't need to make a big deal out of it. It could be as simple as two sentences - Thanks for listening. I like how you suggest things that I feel are achievable.

The first sentence shows your appreciation of how they energise you. To make it really easy, start the sentence with 'Thanks for...', or 'I appreciate...'

The second sentence explains the impact this has had on you. This sentence could begin with:

  • You inspired me to...
  • I am always impressed by...
  • You made me realise....
  • I like how you...
  • You always make me....
  • I learned...

The idea is to focus on connecting your experiences and theirs - to make it easy for them to get to know you better and offer an opportunity to continue the conversation.

Summary

The purpose of networking is to grow and nurture strong professional relationships with people you know, like and trust.

It doesn't have to be as complicated as others make it out to be.

Simply find people who energise you. And let them know.

Don't wait for the perfect moment. Start now.

Spark Notes

  • 1 It goes without saying that you will have to build and develop positive relationships with people who don't energise you. Libraryland is too small to do otherwise. But these aren't the relationships I choose to invest extra time and effort in. At the beginning of his article, Aaron Hurst provided the framework I needed to express the two principles I use to grow and nurture strong professional relationships. 
  • 2 Sarah Kathleen Peck created a list of energy personality types. They might help you identify people who energise you.
  • Image by Roman Kraft on Unsplash.
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