One question about strategic relationships that I've been asked countless times over the years has been a nature versus nurture one. Was that person born a relationship builder, or did they pick up the skills, knowledge, and behaviors through their upbringing, developmental education, or workplace development?

With less frequent physical visits these days because of the pandemic, how will entrepreneurs develop and nurture business relationship skills, knowledge, and behaviors? The essential question for all of us in this crisis and beyond will be how we choose to identify, nurture, and sustain our digital relationships. Here are three thoughts on developing relationship skills at this time:

Know Thy Candid Self

Most of us are born with certain relationship-centric traits--natural tendencies and abilities. Some of our colleagues are quintessential extraverts. Others we interact within our ecosystem are social yet more reserved. Many people we interact with on our daily Zoom sessions are optimistic, while others are distraught with pessimism.

I've always loved being around the naturally curious and find myself perplexed by the cautious. With each relationship interaction, we better understand ourselves; we adjust and compensate for different scenarios. When we face relationship conflicts at work, struggle with political jockeying, or feel the support of a coach/mentor, it strengthens us in our engagement with others.

The key to personal and professional growth through your relationships is candid self-awareness. The single most valuable trait in expanding and extending your digital relationships is knowing who you are, who you're not, the types of relationships which fuel your growth, and those who suck the life out of you.

Where possible, nurture the former and dramatically limit if not eliminate the latter. You have a choice in the relationships you choose to invest in every single day. As we all work more hours than ever before, become more prudent with those investments. The future will disproportionately reward authentic brands and value-based relationships.

Collaborate to Make the End Result Profoundly Stronger

I've long believed that collaboration for the sake of collaboration is a waste of time. Self-preservation is one of the strongest of human instincts. With greater self-awareness, it's ideal if you can move your digital relationships from pure self-interest to shared outcomes.

Like the rest of the world, I'm in daily awe of our healthcare heroes, who not only put their own health and wellbeing on the line but are also collaborating in an unprecedented fashion. Scientists worldwide are racing to develop more than 160 new drug and vaccine candidates to combat the pandemic. 

What the rest of us can learn from this kind of collaboration toward a common mission, vision, or enemy is to ask yourself a key question: How can you invest in fewer, more strategic, and collaborative relationships to co-create something that may be impossible by you going at it alone?

Don't Confuse Digital with Interpersonal

I've never understood the conventional wisdom to create walls between your personal and professional relationships. The rest of the world builds personal relationships, from which they do business. Unfortunately, much of the Western economies are so focused on the sales funnel, the project plan, or the purchase order that we forget the individual stories behind each.

As our lives have become exponentially digital, we must find prudent opportunities for interpersonal interactions as well. As an example, I recently reached out to a personal friend and neighbor to check in and see how he's doing and what he's seeing. He suggested that since he lives down the street, he could walk over, and with a six-foot physical distance between us, we could catch up in-person.

That spark has turned into regular "Nour Wine and Cheese Front Porch" gatherings with one or two visitors at a time and responsibly distant friends, colleagues, neighbors, parents from our kids' school, investors, board members, and clients alike. We need physical interactions as it helps us become more grounded and able to listen, empathize, and respond to others more impactfully.

What's critical to understand is that this pandemic seems likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. It'll challenge many of our assumptions, from the environment to education, and how we define work. Many industries will continue to struggle to adapt. Unfortunately, many small businesses may close and never open again. The fundamental shift in our labor is just one of several factors in every organization's ability to maneuver. The common thread will be both the nature and nurture of our biggest asset-- our portfolio of relationships.