Missed Connections: 7 Ways to Build Better Connections for Your Career
Written by: Julie Williamson, PhD
Are you looking for ways to build better connections for your career development? Most leadership development programs these days talk about the importance of building your network both internally and externally by – and it’s great advice. But what if your efforts fall flat?
So you want to build a connection with someone…
but they won’t give you the time of day
Are you looking for ways to build better connections as an Aligned Leader? Most leadership development programs these days talk about the importance of building your network both internally and externally. People are told to get to know people on other teams, look for mentors, and form relationships with people in their industry, as if everyone is just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.
Honestly, it is great advice. You really should be building connections now that may come in handy later – and even if they don’t, the energy you put in is building muscles for you that will take you far. Plus, authentic, honest connections with other bright, connected people are amazing things. They are often the spark for innovative ideas, a bellwether for trouble brewing, and a sounding board for exploring next steps in your career. When it works, it is great for everyone.
But what about when trying to build a connection with someone doesn’t work?
What about the times when you see someone who you genuinely want to get to know better, and they rebuff your efforts? Maybe, you work in a matrix structure and you want to get to know a functional leader better so you can support and develop their SME who is assigned to your team. So, you reach out, try to connect, but they won’t give you the time of day. Or they are curt and perfunctory in your conversations.
Or maybe you know that someone at your company who works in another market is doing something really cool that you’d like to bring into your market, so you reach out to set up some time. You are excited to learn more and talk about how you might be able to get involved. When you meet, they are evasive and cagey about sharing their data and learnings with you. Even worse, they don’t follow up with promises made on the call to send you additional information, and your emails go unanswered.
We’ve all had experiences like these and others where we’ve tried to make a connection and it just falls flat. For whatever reason, the other person just won’t engage. Before you give up, here are seven things to try. None of these are panaceas, and all are situational – but they are worth considering if you really want or need to build a connection.
Spoiler alert: some of them require a good degree of self-awareness!
Here are 7 things to try if you are looking to build better connections:
- Check your motivations. Are you using ‘connecting’ as a way of actually managing a transaction with this person? It is pretty easy for most people to sniff out when someone is coming after them for something rather than genuinely building a relationship. Remember, you are asking them to invest time – the most limited resource on earth – with you, just like you are investing time with them. If you are really just trying to get something transactional done, don’t waste their time or yours.
- Ask others for advice. Are there other people who seem to have a good relationship with this person who might be able to give you some insights? Are there people who have observed the two of you together who might be able to give you some honest feedback? There might be some simple tweaks to how you are going about it that could make a huge difference.
- Review your history. When you think back on previous interactions with this person, including random meetings where you’ve both been present, is there a chance they’ve observed you when you haven’t been at your best? Is there a possibility they’ve seen you being snarky or gossipy in a way that could be off-putting? Sometimes we don’t even realize the impression people have of us – depending on the situation, asking about it directly can break an impasse.
- Be generous. Even if you feel like all you are getting from someone is stiff-armed, stay true to yourself. When they need something, help out. When you see them, be courteous and curious. You don’t have to let them steamroll you – if they are rude, unprofessional, or unkind, stand your ground. But whenever possible, stay generous in your orientation to them and try to show them some grace.
- Ask them for help. A healthy relationship has a good bit of give and take. Both people can make a contribution. Too often in business, people are willing to give help but not to ask for help, because they resist feeling vulnerable or indebted to a colleague. By being willing to put yourself in that position, you can get people to warm up to you quickly – most people really enjoy feeling like they can help someone else. It can be something simple and small – maybe ask for their input on a presentation you are making, or for ideas on how to handle a situation.
- Shake it up. If you have been trying to schedule 30 or 60 minutes for a Zoom call or a meeting, try for 10 or 15 minutes – or maybe 17! Make it something that catches the eye. Or see about going for a walk together if you are close by. Getting out of the routine can also shake people’s thinking about how open they are to investing time in connecting with you.
- Finally, be patient. Connections grow through consistency over time. Don’t try to go too fast from casual colleague to trusted connection. Look for small ways to interact differently with people. Most importantly, show up the same way every day as a positive, generative, and aligned leader, and the right people will be drawn to your energy and leadership.
At the end of the day, you might just have to accept that sometimes, a connection with someone simply isn’t meant to be.
If someone is truly awful to you, either stand up for yourself or walk away. But if they are just tough nuts to crack, don’t let their recalcitrance change who you are – keep working on building connections and growing your understanding of the business.
In the long run, learning to build relationships over time is invaluable. The ones that fail are as important as the ones that result in long lasting, generative, and mutually beneficial connections because they all help you to build the muscle you need to lead effectively across your organization.