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Virtual Relationships: Reach Out for Help

Written by: Bill Sherman on Monday, 3 March 2008, 3:10 AM

In the world of virtual professional relationships, you won’t meet colleagues at the water cooler. Most people rely solely on the standard conference calls and routine e-mails to manage their relationships. They don’t invest time to build relationships, and then when they really need them . . . they wonder wonder why their connections feel shallow.

You must create opportunities to move beyond work conversations and actually connect with people. It’s possible to create a great business relationship or even a deep friendship without the two of you spending time in the same city; however, it’s not easy. You can’t just wait, you have to plan and act . . . and create compelling offers that invite someone to move beyond the workaday conversations.

Last week, a friend of mine here in St. Louis asked me about how she could accelerate her career in inventory control/management. I offered her some advice, but since that’s not my exact area of specialty, my advice tended to be limited in their specificity. As I spoke with my friend, I realized that one of my clients specializes in inventory management for a world-class company. So, while I didn’t have all the answers myself, I knew someone who could offer great advice.

I sent my client an e-mail with a header that explained this was a personal request rather than a work request. I explained my friend’s situation, and I invited him to share his insights on a few specific areas. I expected there was a chance that he might choose to answer via e-mail, but he sent back a quick e-mail that said, “hey, let’s chat about this via phone.”

During the conversation with my client, he shared a lot of great advice that I could share with my friend. However, he also shared his personal experiences. He talked about many things he’d never shared with me:

  • How/why he chose this career field;
  • How he overslept for his GREs and raced down country roads to make the test’s starting time;
  • How he found his first job in the field
  • How he prepared for his interviews with his current employer (one of Interbrand’s Top 50)

The two of us already had a good connection, but by reaching out for help on behalf of another, he accepted the invitation to “go deeper.” Through that phone call, we deepened our connection. If the two of us had worked in the same office, I could have stopped by his desk or chatted with him in the hall or the break room.

In this case, I had to prepare the ground (send an e-mail to explain the situation and ask for help). He accepted the invitation and set aside a full 1/2 hour for this conversation. Your request has to be relevant, but if it’s well-targeted to the person, you’ll be sure to get their attention.

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