People! That’s the best hack.
Thought to put it there, right at the beginning.
It’s hard to see how you can navigate your professional journey in Communications without people.
Let me share some stories.
An encounter behind the scene
Some years ago, I was a volunteer at a conference. I was very determined to exceed the expectations the organisers had for the comms team. In the middle of doing my assigned tasks, I struck a conversation with another volunteer. All I remember from that conversation was that she loved to write and she had a blog. It was something we had in common. I gave her tips for some things she had challenges with, we followed each other on social media and that was it.
Months later, I received an email from her to send in a proposal to manage content for one of her organisation’s initiatives. That ended up being my agency’s biggest and longest retainer. You can read more about it in my book.
Beyond that opportunity, this lady helped me professionally and we ended up building a good friendship that made a significant impact in our lives.
The virtual professional friend
I don’t remember the exact moment we connected but I know that after we set up The Comms Avenue community in 2020, there was this lady that kept popping up in conversations in the community. I checked her up and something about her personality stuck with me. I reached out and over the months, you’d find us in each other’s DMs saying congratulations and basically cheering each other on.
When I needed some support with a project in her country, she willing helped with that. She has also done some professional introductions that have been very valuable. When we met in person for the first time, it felt like we had known each other all our lives.
What do these stories show? Investing in professional relationships will impact your career in more ways than you can expect.
I know you have heard it before – build relationships. But how easy is it to do that, especially when you are an introvert and when you are also neck deep in work.
I can relate with both. I don’t do small talk really well and I used to find it awkward. But I had to learn. I have discovered that the quality of the information and opportunities that you have access to in your career is directly linked to the network that you have. It’s the reason why belonging to a professional community is so important. It expands your network significantly if you are strategic. But I digress.
I’d like to share some tips to help you nurture and build the right professional relationships.
Be interested in people
Even though I dislike small talk, I actually do enjoy listening to people talk about the work they do. I find it fascinating, actually. So what do I do? When I meet people, I ask them questions. Lots of it. I realise that people generally do love to talk about themselves and respond to people who show genuine interest. In listening to them talk, I take note of their passions and points of similarity which can lead to further conversation and rapport.
Find creative ways to stay in touch
You may not believe it but I am not so great at staying in touch. But social media has helped me to overcome that. A like here and a comment there helps me to stay in touch and connected. If I’m scrolling and I see the person has posted something I find interesting, I’d send a message or drop a comment about it. An add on here is to remember birthdays and other significant milestones. People value this.
If there’s one thing I’m great at, it’s this. In fact, I can give anybody a compliment. As long as I like something, I’d let them know. This has helped a lot in building relationships. “I like this look on you.” “I just want to say well done for pulling that off, I know it wasn’t easy but you did it.” People appreciate compliments. Genuine compliments. Use it as a connection tool.
Be about the value
Don’t be that person who always asks, takes but never gives back. In fact, I avoid making an ask until I’ve deposited something in the ‘value bank account’. For a lot of my contacts, I’m their go to plug for advice and problems in comms. I actually love to help people and I don’t hold back in sharing what I know. And I do so without expecting anything in return. Remember, the goal is to nurture a professional relationship.
Just be a good person
Perhaps this is the most important tip I can share. Be a good person and treat people well. Every one you meet in your professional journey can become an invaluable asset. I remember meeting a newbie reporter years ago at an event and we talked. While I remember that we spoke after the event, I don’t remember the exact content of the conversation but somehow, we lost touch. Years later, a number not stored on my phone called me and it turned out to be the newbie reporter. She was now working in a mid-level role at a tech company that had reached out to me to join a project. She saw my details and called immediately to re-establish the connection. I was touched by the conversation and I was also touched by the good words of recommendation she shared with her employers.
I have many stories. Of mundane encounters opening up great professional doors. Of a random meeting leading to clarity regarding a work problem. Of a one-off conversation that sparked a chain of events that led to a big brief.
Don’t take your professional relationships for granted. Especially the relationship with your peers.