Don Draper was onto something.
In our technology-obsessed world, it's easy to overlook the need to connect with others in a genuine way. Sure, we may be more connected than ever, but it's still the real-life interaction--not the late-night emails--that will take your business relationships to the next level.
Here are some simple ideas to make your connections stronger.
Food is Cheap--But Priceless
One key thing I have learned is that food is really a transformational thing. It's the cheapest way to create good will or smooth over bumps in a project within your organization or with your customer. If you have a meeting that is going to run long or will be near a meal time, providing something for everyone to share is a good way to keep them focused. Food changes the overall mood of a meeting, adding interaction and engagement, and it helps your team be more creative.
Order the Sorbet. And the Cheesecake. And the Brownie Sundae.
A very good business colleague of mine has a unique way of ending a meal when he really wants to cement a relationship. He orders every dessert on the menu. This move is something that few ever forget. Sharing a selection of cakes also changes the conversation at the table. It's suddenly more personal as everyone shares the different items and decides on their favorite.
Play a Game
I often end up at meals with colleagues because our work requires us to travel. One of my designers years ago introduced me to the concept of asking an outlandish question to change the conversation from the usual idle chit-chat. Questions like: If you could be any animal, what would it be and why? Or: What's the one thing you must do before you die? You'll learn more about your dinner companions and the answers often open up brand new topics of discussion you would not otherwise cover.
Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
At the end of each quarter and after reviews are complete, my company takes a day to do something different as a team. Our activities have ranged from bowling together to spending a day at a local amusement park. Getting the team outside of the office allows them to connect in a way that is authentic and breaks the usual routine. These are great events to use in conjunction with strategic planning or vision setting--being out of the office opens minds and encourages the team's creative juices.
I often hear of our employees going to concerts or events together outside of our "organized fun." The fact that they choose to spend time together on their own time points to a real corporate culture that can't be forced.
On a trip to Miami several years ago, I knew that one of our strategists, Corey, was going to be there at the same time. Prior to getting his industrial design degree, Corey spent years as a professional deep sea fishing tour guide. My family and I met up with him and his wife and spent some time with them fishing. Not only was it a great experience, I got to know Corey in a very different way.
Act Like a Tourist
Whenever you are in another city, take a moment to see the sites. I was stuck in Fargo, North Dakota with a fellow employee a couple of years ago. Our work for the week was done and our flight wasn't scheduled to go out until mid-day Saturday. Instead of spending the day holed up in a dark hotel room, we drove across North Dakota and Minnesota in search of every Paul Bunyan statue we could find (in honor of the movie Fargo) and texted our findings back to the office.
Learn the Little Things
I think everyone at User Insight knows everyone else's food idiosyncrasies (I can't stand mayo or peanut butter) and their Starbucks order. Staffers often bring token gifts back from business trips or events for others based on their interests. Learning these little things about each other and putting them into play reinforces the adage "No one cares what you know until they know that you care."
Leave a Note--The Paper Kind
The power of a handwritten note is amazing. My vice president of research and strategy won't hire a candidate who doesn't follow up with one after an interview. I know that when I receive a handwritten note, I always remember it. Everything from the selection of the paper to what is written is a representation of the author and makes me consider them or their proposition with greater care.
Look for simple--but real--ways to connect with those in your life. It's in these unique experiences and moments that you truly create a bond and understand more about those you work with.