The Internet, e-mail, and ever-advancing PDA features have helped shrink the global business world down to efficient, backlit computer screens. However, fundamental human interactions, personal communications and healthy working relationships are suffering tremendously as a result. Here are five ways to deliberately reach out and revive old school voice-to-voice, handwriting-to-handwriting, and face-to-face interactions in today’s business world.
Pick up the phone.
Back and forth e-mail and escalating text exchanges can be the death of human and working relationships, especially during intense relays or negotiations. Phone calls invite dialogue and professional communication. So much intonation, insight, and information are lost when we cannot listen or express ourselves with our voices to important people, clients, and partners. Make it a point –– perhaps an emphatic new rule –– to pick up the phone and speak voice-to-voice after receiving that first e-mail communication. The conundrum is that cubicles make private discussions challenging. If pictures are worth a thousand words, phone calls are arguably worth a hundred, even if left on voice mail. A phone call also sends a clear message that your working relationship with that person and their organization is truly valued. Not all communications require a phone call. Texts and e-mails are indeed handy. Yet reaching out via phone when appropriate attaches your voice to future e-mails and texts, preventing important colleagues from feeling discounted and helping install rationality in the relationship going forward.
Mail a hand-written note.
Snail-mailed letters are actually worth more than any gold to personal and working relationships. Reach out often using your own handwriting. Today’s workforce has heard this truism a zillion times, yet people still foolishly ignore the mantra. No more excuses: Mail hand-written notes. Seek out an old-world, custom stationery shop nearby (local William Arthur suppliers are among the very best), or use official company letterhead to hand-write your “thank you” notes, suggestions to meet, or congratulatory words. If you see an old friend or potentially new associate recognized in industry media, reach out on paper using ink and a postage stamp. Look up their mailing address and make the time to scribe. Sending each viable associate you exchange business cards with –– socially or professionally –– a hand-written follow-up is a classic personal brand and relationship-building strategy.
Host a cocktail party, lunch, or supper.
Invitational gatherings that reach out are assumed to be a challenge to coordinate today, given everyone’s tight schedules. Plan and host deliberate social gatherings anyway. Whether in your city or on the road, invitations to gather for drinks, host a dinner at home, or attend a lecture or concert together are great ways to reach out and maintain relationships. The secret is to pick up the tab. Invitations say “thank you” for your important relationship, and lead to reciprocation in the future. Welcoming spouses and guest associates stimulates even greater relationship dynamics. Throughout the country, supper clubs, cocktail parties, and invitational events are the Golden Rules of vibrant and entrepreneurial cultures that reach out to diverse professionals.
“In an ever-expanding age of E-everything, the effort of sending a hand-written note or printed invitation is worthwhile for the sender and compelling to the recipient,” says Emilie Dulles, of Dulles Designs in Charleston, which provides etiquette advice to wedding, corporate, and society event clients nationwide. “E-vites and texts are often lost in the electronic shuffle. Rapid-convenience messaging lacks personal intent. Customized stationery and gifts elicit excitement from recipients.”
Go see people face-to-face.
People trust, work well, and do business with the people who make the effort to reach out and visit them personally. Even if the visit is for five minutes, physically going to see people face-to-face adds tremendous value and relevance to future phone calls and e-mails. Whether the trek is across the street, town, the state, the country, or even an ocean, reaching out to actually visit key associates is what distinguishes fragile acquaintances from tight-knit relationships. Face-to-face meetings also prevent people from judging each other by their e-mail signature or website photo. Electronics are not people, and computer devices will never have souls. While e-mail, video conferencing, and PDF documents obviously save time and provide cost-saving convenience today, taking the time to go and see important people face-to-face is what opens doors to personal phone calls, handwritten letters, and supper invitations in the future. Make the effort to go and see important people face-to-face.
Give relevant gifts, especially books.
By mail or hand delivery, relevant tokens or mementos based on unique conversations and common interests amongst people are a capstone of reaching out. Gifts do not have to be expensive, just evidence you were listening to who they are beyond an e-mail address or desktop. Books on any subject are especially helpful for creating common ground and taking relationships beyond your website or brochure. Whatever a new client, loyal vendor, key associate, or personal friend may be passionate about, an insightful gift or book on the subject is a meaningful gesture that lasts. Gourmet olive oil, rare-batch wines, or international sports memorabilia are also examples of modest gifts that reach out personally.
The underlying theme of these five interrelated tips is to deliberately reach out, personally. These core tips set a personal tone early, proving that key working and personal relationships in your life are, in fact, important. At the core of the American economic turnaround is the reconnection, reinforcement, and rejuvenation of human relationships, as opposed to their electronic-only demise. There is a reason social media is so popular today, yet still so personally out of touch. Although the Internet, e-mail, and PDAs are technological “work-lines” for us all, reaching out to people via deliberate voice-to-voice, handwriting-to-handwriting, and face-to-face interaction is essential to business success and career sustainability.
Baron Christopher Hanson is the principal and lead strategist at RedBaron Advisors in Charleston, S.C., and Palm Beach, Fla. A former rugby player, Harvard graduate, and expert on workplace and small-business turnarounds, Hanson has written for Harvard Business Review and SmartBrief considerably. He can be reached for consulting roles and speaking gigs via e-mail or over Twitter @RBC_ThinkTank.