We all know that relationships — our connections with other people — matter. Then we get busy, stuff happens, we lose contact. This is true in business as well as our personal lives.
In July, a New York Times story recapped new research that shows how much people appreciate hearing from others, and how often we undervalue the impact that even a short check-in can bring. In 13 different experiments, researchers found that “those who initiated contact significantly underestimated how much it would be appreciated.”
In “The Lost Art of Connecting,” Susan McPherson, a superior “people connector” and CEO of McPherson Strategies, offers sage advice to help us avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” pitfall.
I spoke with McPherson about her experience. Through a method that she calls “gather, ask, do,” she shares insights to develop and maintain stronger personal and professional connections. You can read our brief interview below and then check out her book.
Sherrie Dulworth: In “The Lost Art of Connecting”, you wrote about the value of meaningful connections. Yet, the sheer volume of social media interactions makes it easy to slide into rote or superficial interactions. We get or give a thumbs up, a “like” or “heart,” or maybe even post a short comment and we call it connecting. What advice do you have to help us create or maintain meaningful connections?
Susan McPherson: I titled the book ‘The Lost Start of Connecting” and not “The Lost Art of Networking,” because I think of connecting as much more building meaningful, long-term relationships. I think of networking much more like what you just mentioned, putting hearts and thumbs up and a quick share on social media. I’m not against networking, but I do see the difference.
One of the keyways to more meaningful relationships is to pivot the way we’ve always thought of networking, and think of it more as asking how do I help others? How do I lead with being helpful?
SD: Many of us know that we shouldn’t wait until we are in need to reach out to colleagues, but almost everyone falls into the trap at times. What should a person do when they haven’t kept in touch but now want to reach out and possibly ask for help?
Susan McPherson: Be honest, be transparent, apologize. Say, “I dropped the ball. I’m sorry I haven’t stayed in better touch.” The good news is, if you think ahead, you stay in touch with people as best you can. I realize everyone’s super busy, so sometimes it can just be a quick text or What’s App. Saying, “I’m thinking of you.” By doing that over time, when you need help, it is so much easier to ask for help.
SD: You wrote your book during the pandemic. Have you had any additional insights about connecting since it was published, either based upon your own observations or upon feedback from others?
Susan McPherson: Connecting used to be relegated to the annual conference or the monthly happy hours. During the pandemic, everybody would have their monthly Zoom where they get together. Now there’s a realization in this new hybrid workforce that this is a business issue. When employees are more meaningfully connected — even having friends at the workplace — people are much more likely to stay. They’re much more likely to recruit others, and they’re much more likely to be even more productive. Business leaders are starting to understand, especially in this new hybrid world, that they need to make this a priority. This can’t just be “we’ll deal with it once a year when we bring everyone together.” I’m seeing a lot of business magazines talking about the importance of building meaningful connections, because it is a business issue, not a fluff issue. Frankly, it looks like in the next foreseeable future, we are going to stay in this hybrid world. We need that extra umph to keep us connected.
SD: Does your advice change depending on where someone is in their career — early, mid, or late stage?
Susan McPherson: I think it differs with everybody because we’re all different. We all have the same desire for connections. When young people say to me, “I can’t reach out to this person because this person is so much more important,” I remind them, we all have superpowers. We all have ways to be helpful. It’s the same with people who are retired or retiring. If we lead with how we can be helpful, that doesn’t matter regardless of our age. The most important thing is to think about your superpowers before you reach out to people so that you can find ways of being helpful.