Do We Really Know Each Other?

Posted on January 20th, 2010 at 10:26 am by lmoulton

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Social Networking is the new lingua franca for “staying current” with each other on the Web and building up both personal and business networks. Today as with many days, I received a LinkedIn invitation from an individual who consults in my field and whose published work I’ve read. But I don’t know him and have never had a conversation with him. May-be he thinks being linked to me implies my endorsement, willingness to talk, share insights/prospects/clients, or as a conduit to others. Maybe/probably it is all of the above. But I don’t know him, just a piece of his work and some people who know him professionally. His invitation did not say why he is reaching out to me – not a good sign for me.

It is pretty common to have prospective client leads come from people I do know – well. Most have been clients, in a  group where we are both active or we’ve maintained a relationship through some common professional work. I don’t believe I have ever received a lead from an individual that I have never met face-to-face, although inquiries have come as a result on some online presence that contained my writing. Sometimes the latter results in work, but usually not. May-be my personal voice is not as compelling or convincing as my writing voice, or may-be the need does not match my expertise. It is clear that being introduced by someone who has direct experience with me is much more likely to be a good fit.

Reflecting on recent consulting engagements that came through marketing media exposure or introductions by a third-party made me think more about first impressions. Trying to figure out the times when a follow-up conversation over the phone did not result in business reveal how impressions can change from an initial electronic contact, followed by a phone conversation, and then a personal meeting. One thing is clear; I am almost always surprised at the shifting personal dynamic once we have met. Sometimes a positive impression turns negative but more often than not the “in-person” meeting is a pleasant and more satisfying experience.

In general, the in-person meeting is the best way to really know another person. To me, this underscores the way body language, facial expressions, demeanor and tone influence how we relate to another person and how we hear what they have to say. These things all complement conversation and the written word. I find that in business meetings, my focus is on the content. Rarely am I able to describe afterward a person’s facial attributes or clothing in any detail. However, I do remember mannerisms, the way they speak and relate to me and the content of the conversation.

Transparency and being open are typical of the way I communicate both on the phone and in person. My frankness can be disarming and probably loses me some potential relationships but I have always been pretty direct. However, I realize now that when others are that way with me on the phone before we have met, I can feel a little uncertain about how things will evolve. Those misgivings usually pass once in the presence of the individual.

This all adds up to considering a very important kind of knowledge – knowing people in a much more holistic and personal way. It makes me think about relationships built entirely through correspondence, electronic and otherwise, and how different relationships could be for the individuals in a face-to-face conversation.

Through our professional communities, we often seek referrals and experts. I am not comfortable making recommendations about anyone I have never met. Upon reflection I believe it is because I can never really say, “I know him.” At most I may honestly say, “I know his work” or “I know of him.” I want all my working relationships to be trusting and I want to have confidence in what I say about a person. Exploring this topic has me convinced that face-to-face conversation will always be the best way to relate and know each other.