Technology and Relationships: Where Should You Spend Your Time?

Reframing Work and Life #4: The Intimacy Matrix

For many years I have avoided the topic of technology and relationships. Partly, because often the “hot” technology this year becomes a dinosaur next year…yes, I still remember MySpace, which was going to take over the world. And partly, because the basic ingredients of trusted relationships have just not been significantly altered by email, texting, and social media. That said, technology at its best can be a very effective enabler of relationships, and we should use it. It can also be a great enabler of online cruelty, bullying, and shaming, however, by ordinary people who hide behind anonymous handles. Oh, and an egregious time-waster if you’re spending hours on social media every day…

But here, let’s focus on tech’s positive benefits.

To frame the discussion, consider two dimensions. First, are we talking about many shallow relationships, or a few intimate ones? (it’s not a false choice because you can’t be a trusted colleague or trusted advisor to hundreds of people–by definition these will be relatively shallow relationships). Second, are we using high-touch/low-tech methods or low touch/high tech means to connect? The graphic, below, sets this out. And voilà, there are naturally four distinct quadrants where you may have both professional and personal relationships.

The big question is: Where on this matrix are you spending your time today? And which quadrants should you focus on going forward?

 

LOWER-LEFT: CONTACTS

We all have lots of digital contacts. These may be people who you are connected to on LinkedIn or FaceBook; who subscribe to your newsletter, blog, Twitter feed, YouTube channel, or Instagram feed; or with whom you have interacted in one of dozens of other forums and websites. These COULD be important contacts for you, depending on your job. If you are an M&A partner in a law firm, these types of contacts aren’t for the most part super relevant. If you’re an author or salesperson trying to build a following, then these contacts can be important sources of new business.

But don’t kid yourself. It’s one thing to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator in a targeted way to help you connect with a c-suite executive who could be a major buyer of your solutions. But, quite another kettle of fish if you think, just because you have a lot of social media contacts, that you’re rich in the relationships you need to succeed as a professional.

Synergy: You can often get to know someone initially through a digital contact, and when you then meet in person you move over to the Lower-Right Quadrant—the relationship is already out of the starting blocks. In this case, online technologies are an accelerant. You could also develop one of these contacts into a more in-depth online exchange with someone, over time, and build a “Digital Friendship” in the Upper-Left Quadrant.

Verdict: Most professionals shouldn’t spend a lot of time in the Contact Quadrant, and the time you do spend should be very focused and targeted towards a specific objective: building eventual PERSONAL relationships with a handful of executives who could become clients or some other valuable person in your inner network of the “critical few.”

LOWER-RIGHT: ACQUAINTANCES

These are individuals you have met face-to-face. This can occur at networking events, conferences, industry forums, through alumni networks, and so on. These connections are usually a step above a “contact” but they are still just potential trusted relationships.

Synergy: Some of these personal acquaintances can move up and become important, trusted relationships for you.

Verdict: It’s great to get out and meet people in person. But are you meeting the right kinds? These should be individuals who can:

  • Buy your services
  • Introduce you to buyers
  • Help you with your expertise development or thought leadership in some way
  • Somehow collaborate with you in selling and delivering your work

 UPPER-LEFT: DIGITAL FRIENDS

I do think it’s possible to build deeper, more intimate relationships online through repeated interactions. Yes, some people have met their future spouses online. And I have had (occasionally) extended exchanges with executives who have eventually become clients of mine. But let’s not kid ourselves. A purely online connection, no matter how good it is, isn’t the same as an in-person relationship characterized by a high degree of personal rapport, trust, and mutual respect.

Synergy: Because you’ve already gotten to know each other online, a Digital Friend can rapidly become part of your trusted success network in the Upper-Right Quadrant once you actually meet them in person or possibly by phone.  

Verdict: It’s ok to spend some time on these deeper digital relationships, but in general I think they can only serve you—on a professional level—in a limited way. I wouldn’t be devoting a lot of time and effort to this quadrant either.

UPPER-RIGHT: YOUR TRUSTED SUCCESS NETWORK

If you’re in a business-to-business market, the highest percentage of your relationship-building time should be spent on a few dozen key relationships that are found in the Upper-Right Quadrant. In fact I would say 50-80% of your relational investments should go here. I peg the number of people in this quadrant at 10 to 25, depending on where you are in your career. If you’re just starting out, you should focus on developing a small handful of these, may be 10 or 12, in different categories. If you’re well into your career, then concentrating on 20 or 25 key relationships is more appropriate. In my 37-year career in consulting, I can point to literally two dozen relationships that have been absolutely foundational to my success—and hundreds of successful professionals have told me the same thing during my research on this topic.

These “critical few”—what I call your Success Network—are people who trust you. Who care about you. Who will vouch for you and refer you. These individuals can truly power your career success. And, you can and should help them succeed as well.

Synergy: These are multiplier relationships. These individuals will always be willing to introduce you to their own networks.

Verdict: Don’t waste your time reading everyone’s tweets. Your most precious relationship capital lies in this quadrant. Pay attention to it. Nurture and cultivate it.

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