Grabbing coffee or lunch with a friend or colleague probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, at least not in person. But self-isolating doesn’t have to mean social isolation. In fact, since we’re all in this together, you may find even more ways to connect and network with your circles.
“[The coronavirus] is not an excuse to go into hiding and let your professional connections wither or drop off,” says communication coach Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive. “Networking is very important right now. And it’s imperative to maintain connections for your own mental well-being.”
Networking can be especially important for women, says Dr. Rosina Racioppi, CEO of WOMEN Unlimited and author of Relationships Matter.
“Women often like being independent, getting things done on their own,” she says. “It’s this behavior that allow them to excel and outperform men academically. But the behaviors that allow them to thrive and be successful don’t always have the same results in the corporate environment. Men build business relationships in an effective way, and women can fall behind their male counterparts. As a result, they need to make an effort to network.”
The current environment is frightening, and it’s easy to fall back into behaviors that allow us to feel comfortable and protected, says Racioppi. Instead make networking a priority by doing these four things:
1. Start with an email or text
In a time when we’re all most likely at home, reaching out virtually is fair game, says Clark. “Send a text message or email to friends and colleagues to see how they’re doing,” she says. “This is an especially relevant and appropriate time, even with people you haven’t spoken with in a long time. If you let the ball drop, the current situation provides a ready-made opportunity.”
Everyone is in the mode of checking in, and the lack of recent communication won’t seem weird, Clark says.
2. Be willing to expand your network
In the beginning, it’s natural to reach out to people who will affirm your thoughts and make you feel good about who you are and what you’re doing, says Racioppi. “While it’s comforting, it’s not helpful,” she says. “If you only talk to someone who will tell you what will help you feel good in the moment, you won’t grow and get a broader understanding of how to be effective.”
Be much more intentional about reaching out to different groups of people. Racioppi recommends talking to people in different roles. Identify key people within your own organization or maybe those that are connections on LinkedIn or in a professional association. “In the sea of everything we need to get done, find those people who can help you work on important things,” she says.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know well by putting up self-imposed barriers, Racioppi adds. “Don’t assume they will say ‘no,'” she says. “You can say, ‘I’m in the midst of this situation, and I thought possibly your expertise could be helpful to me. Would you be willing to spend some time talking to me?’ Be clear about your request. The majority of people will take time to respond and engage with you in some way.”
A lot of us have big holes in our schedules because of cancelled plans, adds Clark. “That means we have more white spaces on the calendar,” she says. “In the past, many of us didn’t network because we didn’t have time to network. Now is your big chance to reach out and get a response.”
3. Focus on long-term relationship building
While expanding your network is encouraged, watch your tone, cautions Clark. “While most old friends or colleagues would love to hear from you, it never feels good when there’s an impression of being used,” she says. “If you haven’t spoken in five or 10 years, don’t start with, ‘Hey. Hope you’re well. Oh, by the way, business has dried up. Do you have any leads?’ This is very transactional and opportunistic, and it’s going to leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth.”
We don’t know how long the crisis will last; and information is unfolding rapidly. We’re all adjusting to new restrictions, and this is not the time to be aggressively prospecting with people, says Clark.
“This is a time to step back and focus on longer term relationship building,” she says. “It’s time to be a thoughtful, considerate person. This kind of relationship built over time can benefit both people.”
4. Make it personal
While technology is wonderful, nothing beats talking over the phone or over a video-chat platform, says Racioppi. “Email and text is just a transfer of information, but it’s not good for dialogue,” she says. “When you can, create time to have conversations. Then be curious.”
Racioppi says she’s been reaching out to people asking them how they’re approaching their business in this time and their main priorities right now.
And you don’t have to only focus networking efforts on work. Clark suggests holding a virtual happy hour or dinner to check in and stay socially connected. Connecting with others should be fun and part of your self-care.
“In times of crisis, we often try to cope by moving full throttle toward solving issues at hand, but we also need to identify the people we know who may be restorative connections,” says Racioppi. “You need to have energy to move forward. This is going to be a longer haul than we anticipated in beginning. Stay focused on creating impact and on those people in your circle that can help rebuild and refuel energy.”