Don’t Forget to Build & Maintain Your Professional Network During Social Distancing!

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Will I have a job tomorrow? Will my company make it through what lies ahead?

These are thoughts many have had during these uncertain times.Some of us have already been impacted.

Anxiety at the thought of changing jobs or maybe even changing careers during historic levels of rising unemployment can feel crushing. It may not be top of mind for many in this moment, especially amid “Social Distancing,” but networking may be one of your most important strategies to navigate the challenges ahead.

The more bridges we have built, the more places we can go. One’s personal and professional network may be one of the most valuable assets to their livelihood during turbulent times.

Let’s briefly consider one of the most important aspects of bridge building – Don’t burn them down! My grandfather used to say to me, “best not to burn bridges, never know when you might need to cross them again.” As It turns out, his advice was just as important for a middle school girl in the way she treats her classmates as for an adult professional in the way he/she builds a professional network.

How do we become masters of bridge-building and caretakers in their maintenance? If you are not familiar with Brené Brown’s “Anatomy of Trust,” her research led her to understand that trust is built in small moments. We must keep this idea in mind as we build our bridges and maintain our network. Our network is built piece by piece, in small moments, including being attentive and helpful if a board in our bridge (someone in our network) needs a little pick-me up.

Although the following may be common practice for most, it is easy to get caught up in our personal and professional lives and lose touch with the connections we have built. Here are few helpful reminders as we are largely remaining detached from interacting with the people in our network, to prevent unnecessary bridge-burning and continue building bridges strong enough to weather the storms.

1. Self-Awareness
We are stressed. We may be ready to bite the head off the next person we encounter after spending all day trying to help our kids with virtual school. Maybe, you simply have bad habits. If you get caught up in bad-mouthing others, being offensive, insensitive or have a general disregard for people around you, the line of individuals stepping up to advocate for you will be short. We all have our moments, but we need to stay self-aware and mindful of how our actions are perceived and the impact they have on others. This is a great time to learn about emotional intelligence. Try harder. Use some of your time to read about EQ. Treat everyone you meet as if they will be making the hiring decision for your next job. Who knows? They just might.

2. Be Trustworthy
Again, I will refer to Brené Brown’s “Anatomy of Trust,” and the Acronym BRAVING. In the spirit of brevity, I won’t go through all 7 principles, although all apply. Instead I will touch on a few I try to keep top of mind:
· “R” Reliability – Don’t overpromise. Say what you do and do what you say.
· “V” Vault – Hold people’s information and experiences they share in confidence. Don’t gossip or bad-mouth former or current employers, co-workers, neighbors, friends. When people hear gossip, they may engage with you but in the back of their mind will wonder “What will this person say about me when I am not around?”
· “I” Integrity – Be genuine. Do the right thing, regardless if anyone else is looking. Live your values. The principles of trust are just as important in building professional relationships as they are building personal relationships.

3. Check-Ins
I will admit, I have been guilty of failing to stay in touch with both my professional and personal network during while social distancing. . It is not enough to communicate your willingness to help someone if they need you and assume, they will. Sometimes we get busy and think if someone needs us or wants to speak to us, they will let us know. However, if we don’t make an effort to reach out and check in, people think we are too busy for them and will be reluctant to ask us for help.

4. Be Helpful
If you’re only thinking about your network in terms of how they can help you, you’re doing it wrong and missing the point. Remember a relationship, like trust, is built in the small moments. Regularly ask, “what can I do to help.” Make an introduction, provide some professional expertise or advice, or most importantly, just be there to listen.

5. Be Positive
We are all going through tumultuous times and it is easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all. Keeping a positive outlook is crucial. Especially if you are leaning on your network for job prospecting. Losing your cool if you are being laid-off, holding grudges, social media rants about, well, anything, and behaving in a negative manner can be a great way to burn a bridge. Likewise, being overly negative or acting hopeless will not instill the confidence within professional circles for your network to go out on a limb and recommend you. After all, their reputation and professional network is at stake too.

Building bridges does not happen overnight it happens over time, in everyday moments. It happens with intentional, genuine and positive experiences. Burning bridges, however, can both happen over time as we ignore the connections we have built and within an instant with only a small amount of fuel to a flame. By being aware and intentional of how we stay connected both through good times as well as hard times we can make sure our connections to our personal and professional network remain strong regardless of the storms we have to weather.

Jill Seeley is the VP of talent management services at Newland Associates. For more than 16 years Jill has provided human capital consulting to organizations helping them optimize their talent to produce winning teams and achieve results.  Jill received her BA in Communication from Northwest Missouri State University and is also a Predictive Index Certified Practitioner.