In an era where everything we do seems to be moving virtually, this is an opportune time for us to get back to the basics and look for ways to enhance our face-to-face communication and networking skills.
Many experts fear that we are losing our ability to have the traditional face-to-face conversations that are essential in the workplace and in maintaining our professional relationships. While we are perfecting our writing skills by emailing our colleagues across the country (as well as in the cubicle next to us) we need to ensure we don’t lose our capacity to effectively interact with others verbally. Many people find it more convenient to message, email, and connect with others online, but sometimes it makes more sense to pick up the phone, have a quick meeting, or walk to your colleague’s desk. In many cases these methods are more effective for collaborating, making collective decisions, or getting your work done more efficiently.
As for the networking aspect, I attend mixers regularly because I want to interact with individuals that have a common interest, unique insights, and different perspectives. I genuinely love meeting new people and learning about their experiences.
Networking is a great exercise in relationship building and you can do it just about anywhere. Don’t worry so much about the “formal” aspects of networking. If you are polite, friendly, and have a sincere interest in the people you meet then the rest will fall into place. Strive to be a natural networker – just be yourself, and let your personality shine through.
One of my mentors once told me something I will never forget. Be a good listener – and really listen – don’t be thinking about what you are about to say next when the other person is speaking. Let what they have to say sink in and have an honest interest in what they are telling you.
I know it can be difficult, but try to do everything in your power to remember an individual’s name when you first meet them. It can become awkward if you just had a great conversation with someone and then another person comes along and you are unable to introduce the two of them because you forget their name.
Make sure your online identity matches your offline one – if you are outgoing online but shy in-person you really need to step out of your comfort zone when you meet your online connections face-to-face. You want them to have the same impression of you when they meet you in-person as they did when they met you virtually.
There are a lot of ways you can improve your communication and networking skills. Get involved with your local Chamber of Commerce and/or networks, such as the Federal Youth Network (FYN), National Managers Community (NMC), the Web 2.0 Practitioners community (w2p), and the Institute of Public Administration Canada (IPAC), to name a few.
While I have fully embraced virtual networking, there is no substitute for the human element in developing strong bonds with our colleagues – I am always grateful when I have the opportunity to meet my virtual connections face-to-face. We are living in times of unprecedented change and complexity. It is up to each of us to find ways to retain our soft skills and utilize them regularly to help shape our future workplace.
Jodi LeBlanc is a Values and Ethics Advisor with Veterans Affairs Canada in Prince Edward Island. She is a collaborator/innovator for numerous public service initiatives and national networks and is a member of CGE’s editorial advisory board. You can connect with her via @jodilynne3 or http://ca.linkedin.com/in/jodileblanc