Valentine’s Day may be a time to share appreciation with personal relationships, but February works for considering and reconnecting with professional contacts, as well.
The movie Sideways (2004) reminds me of my professional network through a touching scene in which main character Miles explains his fondness for pinot to love interest, Maya.
“It’s not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention …. only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”
The scene’s power stems from the fact that Miles is really talking about himself and the connection he hopes for in a partner. You can tell from Maya’s expression that she understands how much of a chance Miles is taking by opening up to her.
The scene resonates because of its emotional honesty and the use of pinot and cabernet as symbols of interpersonal and social connections. Pinot represents those you know well, including coworkers, customers, and professional colleagues. Cabernet, conversely, represents weaker connections formed after an initial in-person or online introduction.
In a professional network, a mixing of both muted and strong connections is natural. However, while many of us are adept at building networks, we often don’t spend time nurturing them. Think of your LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers. With how many connections have you had limited or no direct contact in the past year?
Residual connectivity exists via status updates, but it can be difficult to break through a typical day’s millions of tweets and updates. Fortunately, there’s more we can do to engage network contacts. February is known as a time to encourage relationships and bonding, so why not engage with professional connections as well?
Here are 10 ways to nurture your network:
Congratulate. When someone is promoted or changes professions, send a congratulatory note and inquire about the change. Use the opportunity to catch up and provide updates.
Provide Professional Leads. Let appropriate contacts know of a professional lead. Think beyond jobs and referrals to everything from committees, board positions, speaking opportunities, writing assignments, and special projects. Offer to provide an introduction.
Mail. With so many materials now sent in electronic form, a handwritten exchange stands out. To hold someone’s attention, hand write a note and mail it. Finished a good book or interesting article? Mail it with a note expressing why it made you think of them.
Ask Their Opinion. Your contacts are in your network for a reason. Respect others time, but take advantage of their knowledge and experience. Reach out when you have a need and know your contact can assist. Inquire about their lives and thank them for helping you.
Meet in Person. Remember to periodically meet local contacts. This may not be possible with remote connections, but—if you travel—do try to meet up.
Send Links, but Personalize. Discover a link that a contact might appreciate? Send it with explanation of why you felt it might be useful.
Introductions. Many connections could be of service to each other. When you feel an introduction would be beneficial and both parties have agreed, introduce them.
Check In. You don’t need a specific reason to reach out to a contact. Send a short note inquiring about professional developments.
Reintroduce Yourself. We connect with so many people on various networks that we can’t always remember why or when it first occurred. Perform periodic network housekeeping and reach out to contacts.
Let Them Breathe. Wine connoisseurs like Miles from Sideways understand that aeration, warming from the surrounding air, and letting the wine breathe will bring out aromas and flavors. Professional networks also need time and air to flourish.
This February, take time to show your network a little love!