Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Stop Hiding From Behind The Screen And Start Building Meaningful Relationships
If you’re a New Yorker, the idea of a home with a private backyard right in the middle of Manhattan’s Lower East Side is a novelty. On a warm Thursday night, right as the sun was setting, about 45 people were gathered together, facing a brick wall with a microphone stand in the center. For the next 90 minutes, comedians that have performed in renown venues like The Comedy Cellar, and TV shows like Conan, were taking the stage.
After the performers finished, a third of the group shuffled upstairs through the apartment onto Essex street to catch a nightcap with a few new friends they met at the show. The rest stayed back and mingled, remembering their favorite jokes from the evening while exchanging Facebook information to stay in touch.
Two of the comedians that hadn’t met before were making plans to get together for coffee to brainstorms ways they could collaborate. Maybe a new sketch comedy duo was being born.
That same night, a team of first-time student entrepreneurs at NYU was pulling an all-nighter, testing out various cold outreach strategies online for their new beverage business to try to secure their first distributor. This was their second attempt, after spending the first half of the week sending more than 200 emails to business owners in New York City and scheduling only one meeting, which had already been pushed back.
At about 1:00 AM the web developer of the group made a bold suggestion. “Why don’t you guys call it a night, and try to go door to door in East Village tomorrow. Who knows if these distributors are even checking their emails - they’re too busy running their business.”
The CEO scoffed and replied, “business is done online these days man - if I try going door to door, who knows if the owner will even be there, and even if she is, there’s no way she’ll agree to talk to someone that came in off of the street.”
Today, many people choose to build connections online over in person. This applies to everything from dating to business relationships - Tinder to LinkedIn. The reason is simple - it’s much safer to hide behind a monitor or a screen. Rejection doesn’t hit quite as hard, and it always feels like the next great relationship is right around the corner.
Reality is far more bleak.
Making truly meaningful connections online is fraught with challenges. Everyone’s attention is highly fragmented, and the potential for distraction is everywhere.
The internet is very effective at connecting people across borders and the globe, and it’d be silly to dismiss its value in creating opportunities while exposing more people and communities to each other, but when it comes to cultivating relationships with a solid foundation, nothing can ever replace face to face interactions.
Cigna, a global health services organization, published a study saying that 46% of adults in America today feel lonely. In some groups, like millennials, that number is said to be as high as 80%.
In a recent podcast interview with Tyler Cowen, author and New York Times columnist David Brooks attributed this issue to a changing culture.
We went through a culture in the ’50s where we were the opposite of lonely. We were in a culture where people had to solve big problems because they had a very group-oriented culture, what you might call the “We’re all in this together.” Big unions. Very tight neighborhoods [...].
And then people decided around about 1962 that wasn’t working. And so they created a culture that was very individualistic. [...] people began to value autonomy. The 1960s were a period of chopping up the old culture.
The advent of the internet, and the ubiquitous usage that followed only helped perpetuate this significant shift in culture. Fortunately, Brooks predicts that these shifts are fairly cyclical, adding that “culture is our collective response to solve a problem.”
If loneliness is in fact a growing problem, eventually our culture will shift again to solve it.
Some are already taking steps to feel more in touch with the real world by finding long stretches of time to completely disconnect.
This sudden disappearance of distractions forces people to pay attention to the moment - and others take notice.
It could be an extended conversation with the barista you see every day that ends in a free drink from a new friend. Or a second date with a woman you just went out with who noticed that you didn’t check your phone the entire night.
For entrepreneurs, in-person relationship building is even more important to consider. Business partnerships are primarily built on trust, and trust is much easier to gain face to face. A new prospective customer might easily ignore yet another cold email, but a person that takes the effort to walk into a place of business, respectfully asking for the owner’s time, is far more likely to stand out.
Opportunities to meet people in person are all around us, but because it’s so easy to stay online, or to stay at home, one has to make a conscious decision to seek new ways to expose themselves to new communities. Start by realizing that there’s really no risk to putting yourself out there. Who knows - maybe you’ll end up creating the next viral sketch comedy video with the next person you meet.
Image credit: Shutterstock
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