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If your inbox looks anything like mine, you are getting your fair share of invitations to conferences, team offsites, industry networking events, and trainings right now. Spring is prime connection season—and for the first time in two years, it seems likely that you could attend those events in person. This might energize you, deplete you, or both.
For the past year in the Deloitte Greenhouse, we have been looking into how people build relationships in a virtual (and now hybrid) environment, and what drives versus impedes connection. What we’re hearing is that professionals typically aren’t finding time for relationships beyond those that are immediately necessary for their daily jobs. Moreover, when they do find time, many experience the process of preparing and engaging to be exhausting. This is true whether they are connecting via Zoom or in real life.
Compound this with the fact that a high number of professionals have had to start both their professional and personal relationships afresh due to switching jobs, moving to a new place or just now meeting neighbors who moved in right before March 2020. This can be exhausting, so how do you do it in a manageable way?
Our recommendation: Manage your energy, not your time. Before you accept and go to any of those events you’re receiving invitations for, take a moment to grab your relationship battery pack, together with your ring light and wireless earbuds.
Which battery do you need?
Know your relationship style
Great relationships start with you, and Business Chemistry suggests we don’t all view relationships in the same way. For example, Integrators place the most importance on having deep personal connections with coworkers, and Drivers the least. Pioneers are most likely to prioritize having a large network of connections, and Guardians are least likely. Knowing yourself allows you to understand what type of socializing naturally works for you and how to manage your energy for moments when you are out of your element. It can also give you some cues about how to create moments that can allow you to be at your best.
Personally, I enjoy nurturing a large group of connections, but when I meet others in person I prefer engaging in small groups. So when I get invited to conferences or large events, I tend to skip the big gatherings and instead convene a small group of people I already know. To expand the group, I might ask each person to bring along someone new that they think would enjoy meeting others in the group. Depending on who you are, you might manage such events very differently. The point is, you can make informed, intentional choices when you pay attention to what works best for you. As you get those industry, training, or offsite event invitations and have some degree of freedom over accepting or declining, consider that you may want to host an event, rather than going to one. Or you might choose to prioritize smaller group events over very large-scale conferences.
Be attuned to your daily energy levels
Another way to manage your energy for relationships is to take a closer look at how you spend your workdays and time at various events. Do you notice any patterns? Are you scheduling your time in ways that maximize your energy for connecting with others?
I started with experimenting with my own calendar a few months back and it has been enlightening. At the time, my intention was to manage my energy while working from home—and specifically to limit Zoom fatigue. While I saw marked improvements, I also started noticing some patterns around the energy I had for relationships. I was naturally tending toward focused creative work in the mornings and connecting with others in the afternoon. I also observed that one-on-one calls in the morning left me anxious, yet in the afternoon they left me energized with a stronger sense of belonging. My personal experience is consistent with science: Research suggests people often want to connect later in the day in line with their circadian rhythms.
With the benefit of these new insights, I changed the way I was scheduling my time. Most of my early mornings are blocked off for focused work, while late mornings and early afternoons are dedicated to my teams and coworkers. I try to reserve late afternoons and early evenings for relationship-building calls that are not related to immediate projects. I also try schedule recurring weekly blocks to talk with someone new or whom I have not connected with in some time. The impact on the quality of my business relationships has been encouraging so far, and by extension, has contributed to my productivity, well-being, and sense of belonging at work.
If you’d like to try this yourself, it’s relatively easy to get started. For a week or so, record your daily energy levels at the end of each morning and afternoon. Add some thoughts about what might have contributed to those levels. No need to make it complicated, just keep a sheet of paper or a desktop sticky note open in front of you and at the end of the week, tally up your notes and notice any patterns.
Some sample questions you might want to ask yourself after each block of time:
Before you travel to those various company and industry events, put some thought into what you might accept to travel to and how you will spend your time once there. For example, you could decide to select events or subsets of conference activities that occur at certain times of the day, because they may fit your energy levels better.
What keeps your battery charged?
Manage your relationship energy
Your energy is not infinite, so how might you preserve it? One way is focus. There are only so many relationships one has time and energy to build at a time. Intentionally focusing on a few can help you build trust, be curious and generous, and listen with empathy to those whom you choose to engage.
You can also preserve energy by taking small breaks between conversations. It’s OK to step out of a room to catch some fresh air, notice the skyline and the landscaping around you, and mindfully re-center so you can engage better with the next person. A study suggests that our brain needs breaks, and even more so, that a lack of breaks induces stress. While that study was more focused on a hybrid/virtual setting, I find it can be used for self-management to do this in person as well. To be able to give your time and attention to others, you should replenish your well, so go ahead and take those big and small breaks.
Seek and generate relationship energy
Protecting the energy you already have is one thing, but you can also generate energy through relationship-building. If you’re skeptical, might I suggest you try giving it a chance. As I read recently in a behavioral science newsletter, often “behavior precedes motivation.”
Maybe you feel overwhelmed by the idea of attending an out-of-town networking event after two years of COVID-induced non-travel. Consider that you might feel better about it, and even be energized by it, once you are there. If you struggle to see the value and impact of a conference to your immediate work, consider MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya’s hypothesis that atelic activities—in other words, activities to be enjoyed for their own sake and not because they drive to a particular goal—usually make us more fulfilled. You might also choose events that might give you a sense of belonging. I recently read Amelia Dunlop’s book Elevating the Human Experience, in which she “introduces three paths to love and worth in the workplace that allow individuals to create the professional experience they desire for themselves, their teams, and their clients.” One of her ideas is to strive to find communities at work and, essentially, seek belonging. So when you pick your next conference or event, ask yourself whether it goes beyond offering an enjoyable experience to scratching that itch for belonging.
If you do decide to attend an event, challenge yourself to have meaningful conversations. Personally, small talk depletes me. Fellow Drivers might relate. Instead of clenching your fists and summoning up your will to “work the room” through small talk, switch your strategy and aim for really meaningful conversations. Research suggests that we fear having meaningful conversations with strangers more than we should. One experiment paired up finance executives and instructed them to ask each other specific questions, including “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?” and “Can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?” According to the researchers, participants were reluctant at first to engage but they ended up “repeatedly asking people to stop talking and come back to the presentation. One person wiped away tears. One pair hugged. The initially stern-faced group came back with noticeably more smiles, as if some switch had been flipped.”
To try this yourself, develop your go-to list of 5–10 deep questions for total strangers to have a meaningful conversation with. And then start using them! Stuck in a conference right now with a never-ending cycle of small talk? Get back to Dr. Suz’s previous post on how to use curiosity to strengthen your relationships.
Knowing yourself and what energizes and depletes you could significantly impact your well-being and your career. I have become more intentional about experimenting and finding out what relationship strategies work for me in the short and long term. Give it a try yourself, grab your relationship battery pack, and see how it feels!
Virginie is the Science of Relationships program leader within the Deloitte Greenhouse®, which helps leaders and their teams disrupt ordinary thinking, bring clarity to decision-making and reveal new opportunities for growth. As part of this role, she develops the strategy and oversees a team that conducts research and develops new content and workflow embedded tools to help reimagine and reignite relationships at work. With a background in strategy and law, Virginie brings more than 15 years of experience helping corporations and other entities (e.g. startups, foundations) in Europe and the Americas bring their ideas to life. Prior to her role, she spent over a decade in the Monitor Deloitte strategy practice driving corporate strategy projects and senior executive development, and several years innovating various aspects of Deloitte’s Executive Accelerator programs including overseeing new space strategy and next-generation physical immersive space design.