Improving your relationships through social media

A new network of relationships is taking hold in our lives and our workplaces, and it is a powerful force. Both the firm and the worker seek connections. If they do it together, think of the possibilities. Future workers will be self reliant, creative, conceptual thinkers who brand themselves in the pursuit of job security and fulfillment. This shift will occur based on generational changes, information freedom and the continued growth of online and social tools that allows greater access and connection within the greater environment. The question then becomes: what effect will these changes have on our individual and collective relationship skills? Many people have warned me that the social media craze will have a devastation effect on people’s ability to interact well. Our Future of Everything panel disagrees.During the ‘70s and ‘80s our social communities moved away from our neighborhoods towards our workplace. Lately, there is a new shift taking place to the online communities. The argument is that people will be locked away in their office or home Facebooking and tweeting all the time, and that we will forget how to have conversations. Research shows that people have a strong instinct to connect, find and build relationships as part of an inherent survival mechanism. So it is no wonder that social media has grown so fast. We are compelled by instinct to accept a Facebook friend, to collect a portfolio of connections and interact with them. A few months ago I took a call from someone who wanted some advice on a matter. I spent an hour with him on the phone, having a targeted and productive conversation. We agreed to get connected through LinkedIn and keep in touch with each other. A month later, I was sitting at a public function having dinner and met this person “for real.” We knew what each other was up to, projects we were working on and had some familiarity with each other beyond the brief phone conversation. The phone started the conversation, LinkedIn provided some context to each other. The result – it felt like we were old friends catching up. I can argue that social media has fast-forwarded this relationship that would otherwise not have happened. Facebook allows us to keep in touch with colleagues, family members, and even distant relationships that would have normally had communications gaps of years. My friend Jeanna is on her way back from Iraq, another friend Rod is planning a fly-fishing trip in July and my cousin is looking for a summer job – all things I would not have otherwise known without social media networks. On the work front, I know what events are going on in the city, have blog links I would have missed and can share what I think is important to my communities. Online social networking does not replace our relational skills, but instead makes them better, faster. As more people migrate to social media, we will be connected differently to our world. As these tools morph to become better and more useful, the purpose and protocols of e-mail will change and our social behaviors will change. How we manage projects, invite people to events, interact in and outside of the office will all change. Regardless of your job, rank or people skills, staying connected to your network will be ever more important to lead and get work done. It may also improve your relationships skills and make you a better contributor to your future work.
Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm, is project manager of the Future of Everything. Core project participants on this topic included Tammy Hildreth and Paul Philbrick, co-founders of Network for Work, Dennis Delay, an economist with N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies and Elyse Barry, a partner with Sojourn Partners. For more information, contact 603-472-8103 or