'Going deep' on professional relationships

'Going deep' on professional relationships

You might have 2,484 “friends” on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn. Or you always find familiar faces to chat up at trade shows. Maybe you buddy up well with your seat mates at lunch and dinner events.

But there’s a difference between having a big professional network and a strong one. 

We must deepen our work relationships, rather than simply expand our circle, said Colette Carlson, professional speaker and founder of the coaching firm Speak Your Truth. She spoke at a women’s Southern Roots luncheon at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure show.

Women, in particular, have to find ways forge strong bonds in this still often male-majority industry.

There’s a reason to join the guys for golf beyond tapping that little dimpled ball around rolling greens — or whatever you call it. (I hate playing golf. I gave it a good try with eight lessons. Nope, not for me.)

But playing with others builds trust. Creating shared experiences builds a foundation for authentic friendships in business, which can help your career.

One woman I ran into during the SEPC trade show told me she was tired because she went out drinking with the guys the night before. Sometimes she goes golfing with them. She’s not that good at golf or interested in it, but she jokes around with them throughout the game.

It’s important to do, she said. She gets it. 

I, on the other hand, cannot even pretend to like sports, which is a bit of a problem as I’ve noticed that being a sports fan is almost a job requirement in this industry.

While I want to deepen my connections with other professionals, I have to do it in my own authentic way.

I love food more than the average Joe. 

I will wait in line for a Cronut. I’ll eat roasted crickets and ant dust — on my birthday, because, yes, I chose that restaurant. I’ll taste that foul-smelling durian and wolf down a chipotle jackfruit taco. I’ll organize a food tour for a visiting friend.

The connections I’ve made on the job through our shared love of food have felt joyful and easy. 

I remember the New Jersey farmer who saw my eyes light up as he mentioned how he likes to cook his farm’s fragrant scallions with fish at home. We were standing a few feet apart among boxes of crops just harvested and seemed to be worlds apart until we realized we had something in common that closed the distance.

Then, and only then, did the farmer open up to me for my story.

When I find someone excited by a new grocery store or cutting-edge restaurant, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm. We have a platform for connecting on a deeper level.

Opportunities come, not from just who you know, but who you know well.

It can be tricky sometimes with the dynamic of being a woman among men, but we women can seek each other out and form our own alliances too. 

Regardless, think of your connections. Who will vouch for you?

Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Northeast editor. E-mail her at [email protected]

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