How to foster meaningful relationships in the digital age

Use these tips to establish and maintain meaningful professional relationships.

By Vern Smith July 28, 2020

As a 50-year employee at Jordan & Skala Engineers, having served a variety of roles within the firm, I’ve learned a thing or two about fostering long-standing professional relationships. During my experience, I’ve witnessed firsthand how a professional relationship can grow over time and how it even has the ability to translate into business transactions.

These meaningful relationships are a central part of any engineer’s journey and they are developed through trust — but how do you build and maintain trust in a world that communicates mostly from a computer?

In today’s workplace, we do everything from behind a computer screen. If we have a question for a client, we can ask it through a messaging application. If plans need to be communicated, we can simply forward them via email. And if a high-rise tower needs to be designed, team members don’t even need to meet each other in person to make it happen. Today’s technology has given us the gift of efficiency and convenience, but it makes it more challenging to connect with people on a personal level.

While technology continues to grow, it’s pertinent that we find ways and time to maintain relationships. Here are three suggestions for establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships in the digital age.

1. Get personal

We often get so caught up in our work that we forget that the clients or contacts that we’re communicating with has interests and hobbies of their own. Learning their preferences and details about them can help you engage with them not just as a businessperson, but as a trusted ally. If you know a contact well enough, you can tailor your messaging to them in a way that makes the interaction more genuine.

Though establishing a personal relationship may seem challenging if you’re not meeting face-to-face regularly, it is still possible. Share an article with them that falls along their interests. Send them a personalized message on a birthday or holiday. Instead of replying to their email, pick up the phone and give them a call or set up a video meeting. Chatting with someone over the phone is a great way to establish rapport and it can open the door for conversations that won’t happen over email.

2. Be dependable

Healthy professional relationships are built on trust. If you’ve capitalized on a connection that translated into opportunity, it’s your responsibility to prove that you can be dependable.

Trust isn’t developed overnight. It’s built over time through respect, transparency, proactive communication and dependability.

During my 50 years of experience, I’ve seen trust afford me with many opportunities. For instance, during the Great Recession, while project opportunities weren’t so easy to come by, a client went out of their way to choose me for their work. The client could have given work to other businesses because they had enough projects to share, but they trusted me. This trust was built over years and years of responding quickly and accurately to their needs, showing respect and integrity throughout our business dealings, and holding myself accountable with deliverables.

3. Make time for in-person interactions

Though there are a million ways to communicate with people without being present, in-person interactions are still necessary. If geography or COVID-19 issues aren’t a barrier for you and your contact, find ways to make room in your schedule. One of my favorite ways to get to know my contact is to sit down and have lunch or dinner with that person. To go a step further, I would even invite our significant others to lunch or dinner, creating an even more intimate interaction.

Face-to-face conversations may be hard to coordinate, but it is worthwhile. Communication is more effective when body language and facial expressions are a part of the conversation. So, it’s important to break from the norm to take some time to enhance your professional relationship beyond the typical cybercommunication.

Author Bio: Vern Smith is director of multifamily, student housing and K-12 at Jordan & Skala Engineers. For more than five decades, he has made his mark on the industry by dedicating his time and effort in delivering innovative mechanical designs for projects of all kinds.