I’m not sure what the long-term effects of growing up in a world of computers and cellphones will be. However, watching high school and college students communicate leads me to believe that texting and digital communication have affected their “in-person” communication skills (but that is a completely unscientific observation).
When looking at what skills to develop, face-to-face communication is a critical place to start. The more effectively you interact with others, both online and off-line, the more powerful your networking relationships will be.
Developing Relationships in Real Time
Relationships consist of shared time and shared space, meaning that they are much more powerful when they happen in real time and in the “real” world. When you have a chance to interact with someone face-to-face you are sharing a precious commodity: attention. Refining your social skills allows you to be intentional with your interactions, instead of just hoping that they go well.
In Networking in the 21st Century I cover a number of areas that are important for interpersonal communication. These include:
- Dress and Grooming
- Body Language
- Small Talk
- Sense of Humor
Each of these is an important component for interpersonal communication. Give yourself a quick self-audit: On a scale from 1-10, where would you put yourself in each of these areas? And be honest with yourself – you don’t have to share the answer with anyone You want to be honest with what areas you are strong in, and which ones you can improve. Don’t take any of them for granted, each of them is an integral part of the complex, and often unconscious, way that we communicate with each other.
Keep the Conversation Going
How you are perceived at first is important, but what do you do after the initial hello? What do you do when the person you’re talking to isn’t on the other side of a text message, but right in front of you? This is the place where all of that “screen time” can be detrimental.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a two-minute conversation at a networking mixer or an informational interview over lunch. This is your golden opportunity to make a great impression on the other person.
Practice the art of conversation. The easiest way to start and maintain a conversation is through questions. Use the “The Next Question™ game, where you use the answers from previous questions to spark new questions. You do this already in your personal life, so bring it into your professional world. It will make you a much more focused listener. It will also make it easier to have a conversation with new people, because they’ll do most of the talking!
No matter the context, people enjoy talking about themselves, and they like those who show an interest in them. Be the person who makes that happen and you will have great conversations.