Derek DelGaudio is a conceptual artist and magician currently gaining acclaim for his one man show In & Of Itself, recently performed over 500 times in New York City. The show, which grapples with the identities we hold for ourselves via an intriguing mixture of storytelling, sleight of hand and stagecraft, is reaching a wider audience now as it streams on Hulu. Of his work and its themes, DelGaudio recently said, in a Q&A at The Daily Beast, “We walk through this world feeling unseen, unheard, unloved. And part of that is because we are not seeing and hearing and loving others.

“We’re so busy fighting to be seen that we’re forgetting that we are others.”

These words resonate with me this month and reflect an idea that is coming up again and again in my own life and work. On January 28th, I delivered a presentation to Career Connectors about ways to start and deepen relationships with people from different generations. In doing so, I realized just how few people have a process for reaching out to those who are already in their orbit. Instead, they feel anxious and disconnected—unsure of their next move, both personally and professionally. They’re waiting to be discovered, to be chosen, instead of discovering. Instead of choosing.

Similarly, a corporate client I consult is moving its teams from reacting to the needs of clients to intentionally developing a client experience by deepening relationships.

I’m seeing this idea in a more personal sense as well. Lately, I am finding myself inundated with requests from people all over the world for my time. I’ve noticed it is becoming a challenge for me to recognize and devote energy to the members of my own soul group and intentionally stay connected to them.

My time is being so distributed that I want to make sure I dive deep into my existing relationships instead of letting social media—and the allure of appearing interesting to a wide audience—distract me from the more important task of staying genuinely interested in the people who matter most to me. 

I’ve found myself asking: how can we all move through 2021 with the intention not to beg for attention but instead show up for the people with whom we’re already in conversation? When you read Covey’s Speed of Trust, Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Google’s Project Aristotle, or Brené Brown’s books, you learn trust-filled and vulnerable communication is about depth and quality, not quantity. 

It’s about the feeling you intentionally create in the person you’re communicating with. In building relationships, I’ve learned and have come to teach my clients that we should proactively seek out conversations with people who appear different than us. Through dialogue, you’ll find commonalities. Remember, humans are hard-wired to want to help others and appeal to nobler motives. We like to ask for and provide information, resources, and expertise. Human beings are designed to learn—and to help others do the same. The fastest way to build rapport is to find an uncommon commonality.

A Process to Launch a Relationship

If this all sounds well and good but you’re not sure where to start, here are simple steps to follow as you build a more connected 2021:

1. Ask a third-party, warm, mutual connection to introduce you to the person you desire to form a relationship with.

2. If you were introduced via email, respond with a short introductory message that offers gratitude and mentions one or two commonalities you share. These might include schools attended, certifications, companies worked for, hobbies, etc. Request a 30-minute virtual conversation, in-person coffee, or lunch meeting.

3. Prior to the call or in-person meeting, research the person online, call professional contacts for more information, and prepare five to seven questions you’d like to ask your new contact. You’ll find a list questions below to help you with this step.

4. On the call or in the meeting, listen actively and try to ask most of your prepared questions. At the end of the meeting, verbally detail one to three things you will do to add value to your new contact’s career.

5. Within 24 hours of the meeting, follow up with a thank you email and mention something personal you appreciated about them. If you can deliver the things you said you would immediately, do so.

6. After three to four weeks pass, communicate with the person through a different channel and deliver more value. Every 30-60 days, check in and deliver more meaningful value.

Ask Deeper Questions

The key to this relationship-building process is to go into a dialogue with questions prepared ahead of time so the conversation has clear shape and purpose.

Before these conversations begin, ask yourself:

  • How self-aware am I?
  • Do I choose language that makes the person I am talking with feel psychologically safe?
  • Can they see themselves spending non-work time with me? See me as a friend?
  • What vulnerability am I willing to share about myself first?

When informational interviewing an expert, ask:

  • Why do you enjoy your area of expertise?
  • When and how did you know it’d become your career?
  • How do you use your expertise day to day?

When networking with a person like yourself:

  • Walk me through your journey to today.
  • What are your most important life lessons learned?
  • Why do you continue working for this organization?

Another vehicle to build relationships is via exchanging emails, DMs, and social comments. Ask:

  • What is your favorite thing to learn about?
  • What recent life changes have you experienced?
  • What do you value in a leader and why is that important to you?
  • Do you have a coach? What has he/she taught you?

Ask someone from a different generation:

  • Tell me about the community you were raised in.
  • From your teenage years, what world events do you remember most vividly?
  • What values are you trying to pass to your children/community?

Ask a mentor, coach, or board of directors:

  • What are your life’s most important goals?
  • Have you defined your life’s legacy? What is it?
  • What challenges did you overcome? How do you help others do the same?

When building relationships, ask:

  • What did your parents do that you find yourself doing?
  • Since March 2020, what new habits have you formed?
  • What do you do to find stillness, to find time for reflection?

Each of us has a highly unique journey, and that uniqueness should be honored as we learn from one another. As Maya Angelou once said, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

As you intentionally spread optimism and curiosity, people will catch your vibe. Become great at asking insightful questions, taking notes, leaving judgments aside, and following up on key points.

Where Are You Going? Who Are You Taking with You?

In 2021, we will have the time to deepen our relationships. I believe the first two quarters of this year will be challenging. But by the summer, we will slow down and have the chance to reassess our lives, to look in the mirror and think about who is really important to us.

As Derek DelGaudio so wisely notices, everyone is basically looking for the same thing: recognition, validation, connection. 

We are the others we’ve been looking for. Calendar your time, be intentional, don’t scroll. Instead of worrying about being interesting, be interested.

To learn more on this, check out my other recent post on the topic, Building Relationships Takes Time, read my new book I KNOW, and reach out for a 1-to-1 consult on how I can help your organization reach its 2021 goals.