“We are in the connection economy, where trust and relationships are the new currency” – Seth Godin
Last week a card arrived in the post from a long lost uni friend which both caught me by surprise and delighted me in equal portions. I was also particularly touched with the obvious time, thought and effort that had been taken to reach out and reconnect. It was clear that the card had already been returned to sender once, with the second effort made to track me down through an old family address, which in turn somehow made it to a more current address before making it’s way onto me.
With both of us leading lives that had seen us relocate around the country and globe we lost touch several years into our careers for no other reason than the busy-ness of life. Spurred on by some recent significant events my friend explained how they had given her cause to think of me and wonder what I was up to.
Not only did her letter really make me smile, it also made me realize just how much power there is in the act of reconnecting. In working with many senior executives who are working or who have recently worked abroad, reconnection is a hot topic. Often there have been years between the proverbial drinks and there is huge reluctance to re-engage for fear of being perceived as disingenuous or feeling awkward. However when we do learn how to genuinely re-engage the benefits are enormous. In fact it is in failing to reconnect that can all too easily be the real missed opportunity.
Adam Grant, Wharton Business Leader and author of Give and Take explores how our success has become increasingly dependent on the interactions we have with others rather than on the individual drivers of success such as commitment, hard work and passion. In analyzing our networks he classifies them into three groups: strong, weak and dormant ties. It is this third group – defined as people you used to know but don’t keep in touch with – that he believes is the most easily dismissed and undervalued.
In a recent Inc. article he explained why he believes that dormant ties can be better for networking weak (people we’ve met but don’t really know) or even strong ties. All too often our strong ties give us redundant knowledge – they are likely to know the same people, operate in similar environments and do similar things. Dormant ties however tend to give us better information because they have a much more diverse network with different thinking and experience. Invariably they have been meeting new people, learning different things and ways operating so they can potentially open up whole new worlds you didn’t know existed
So how do we reconnect with our past networks genuinely and with purpose? I would encourage you to consider the 7 tips below.
1. Plan to reconnect: Get clear on who you want to reconnect with and why – the initial contact will always be made easier with a clear sense of purpose.
2. Identify the best way to connect: Determine what is the most appropriate way to connect – do you pick up the phone, send an email or initially engage on social platforms such as LinkedIn?
3. Embrace the awkwardness: It will feel a bit awkward and will require you to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway!’ Pretending that you are the best of friends and it is only natural that you would be making contact is inauthentic and can actually be more harmful than helpful.
4. Acknowledge the lapse in time: As with all communication, honesty is imperative. Be up front about the lapse of time and provide some sort of context for that time period – studying, working abroad, family commitments, new roles etc. When you admit it’s been a while and you want to catch up, it ‘s more genuine.
5. Explain ‘Why Now?’: Understand why you want to connect and be transparent about it. Draw a link between what has prompted you to get in touch and why eg: I have recently made the decision to relocate back to Australia and I know that you have successfully made that transition so was keen to hear what your tips and insights were.
6. Ask how they are: Seeking to understand your connection’s story is critical. They will no doubt also have been developing new skills, knowledge and connections so it is important to build awareness on what they have been doing. It also makes it easier to create genuine dialogue and opens the door for you to reciprocate in kind.
7. Offer to reciprocate: None of us like to feel as though we are doing all the asking or taking so it is important to offer your knowledge, skills and experience in return. You are also much more likely to want to engage when you work to establish a two-way benefit.
Why not set yourself a challenge to re-engage with 3-5 people who you believe can add value to what you do today!
As always I would love to hear your thoughts.