Recently a new term has been gaining some popularity in blogging circles, that is a “relationship geek”. While it may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, this new trend towards using online tools to further communication and relationships has been increasing. From instant messaging to MySpace, even the blogging community, the web has increasingly become a place to further relationships and these relationship geeks are taking advantage of this to the fullest.
Building and maintaining relationships has to be one of the most valuable things you can do for your own life and your own growth. Brian Tracy has even said that he believes that the purpose of life itself is to build these loving relationships. I have developed an interest in how some people seem to be able to create and maintain relationships with many different and interesting people. I have read a few books and a lot of articles on networking, but unfortunately, I remain a novice at this essential skill.
In hopes that both myself and you can learn some skills for building relationships I decided to contact my friend and self-proclaimed “relationship geek”, Phil Gerbyshak , to answer some questions about networking, forming and maintaining relationships and particularly how this applies to the world wide web. Here is that interview:
Scott: Tell us a little about your background.
Phil: I was born in Crivitz, WI (pop. 996) in December of 1973. I graduated high school in 1992 and went into the Navy for 4 years. After the Navy, I went to college, got a job as a tech support guy at a local Internet provider, moved from there to a mutual fund company, and then to another financial services company where I am currently employed. About 2 years ago I decided I wanted to write a book, so I started blogging and writing, and my first book 10 Ways to Make It Great! was published June 30th. My wife and I have no children (yet) and recently bought out first home in a little suburb of Milwaukee, WI.
Scott: You have frequently been referred to as a “Relationship Geek”. Can you give us your own thoughts on what this means?
Phil: Being a relationship geek means being passionate about using whatever means necessary to further a conversation or a relationship. This could mean using the various blog tools (blogs themselves, trackbacks, comments, etc.), various e-mail tools (LinkedIn, Plaxo, and other CRM solutions), or the more traditional methods (phone, handwritten note, etc.). Whatever it takes to create, and deepen, a connection, I’m willing to do.
Scott: You seem to create many connections both in person and online including other authors such as David Lorenzo  and Scott Ginsberg . What do you do to meet these fascinating people?
Phil: Dave and Scott are great examples of folks I met online through blogging that I’ve been able to firm up our connections in person. I started by reading their blogs, commenting on their posts, and trying to add value to their blogs and their lives by offering my assistance in any way that I could. Both guys are also relationship geeks, so I’m guessing they saw I could add some value to their lives, so they reached back to me, and a friendship developed. We have talked a few times on the phone, and when the opportunity presented itself (Dave with Book Expo America and Scott with a trip to Milwaukee for training), we connected in person.
I also share articles I’ve read about them or that mention an article they wrote whenever I find them. With the blogosphere and the Internet as large as it is, it’s good to have another set of eyes out there picking up on things you’ve done.
While this isn’t a perfect formula, I feel the key is to find ways to add value to other people’s lives, and then you’ll be allowed in. Does that make sense?
Scott: Many authors on networking talk about forming face-to-face relationships through meetings in person, but with the coming of the internet and blogging many people are meeting online first. What do you think is necessary to seek out and maintain these online relationships?
Phil: For online relationships to develop, again the first step is adding value. If you can’t add value, then you’re probably just wasting someone’s time by wanting to develop a relationship with them. I don’t mean you have to help them build the London Bridge. I am saying you must find ways to share of yourself in a way that helps the other person. Find articles you think the person you want to develop relationships with and send them their way. Offer an insightful comment on an article they’ve written. If you see a typo on their site, gently e-mail them and let them know. And don’t be afraid to ask how you can help out.Next, you must deepen the relationship by being your authentic self with people. If you write enough online, people will know if you’re not being your authentic self, and they’ll realize your motivations aren’t pure, and you probably won’t have much of a friendship. Authenticity plays a key role in motivations, especially online. I strongly encourage people to not worry if you don’t connect with EVERYBODY you want to connect with. There are thousands of people online to connect with, many of which write the same topic as other people. Very rarely is there 1 expert on a topic. Don’t be afraid to change who you want to connect with.
To maintain an online relationship, you have to continue to find ways to add value, and to give someone a reason to keep in contact with you, and you need to find ways to share of yourself with them. Be authentic, be in contact, but don’t always ask for something. Start with what YOU can do for THEM, and then worry about getting something back.
Relationships are all about the OTHER person, not all about me, and I always keep that in mind. People’s strongest urge is WIIFM (what’s in it for me), and if I can find ways to tap into that with my strengths, I do and it’s a good relationship.
Scott: Meeting a lot of people is great, but in order for those relationships to be meaningful they must be built on a deeper foundation. How do you maintain relationships with all the people you meet, even when you can’t see them on a regular basis?
Phil: Maintaining relationships is definitely hard work. First, you have to know who you have a relationship with. I know this sounds obvious, but you have to be very intentional about who you are trying to keep in contact with, how often you want to talk to them, and what you have in common. Begin with identification and move on from there.
Then, use a periodic, personal e-mails maintain the relationship. Notice what the other person is working on, if you’ve enjoyed it, say so, if you’re working on something similar, share what you’re working on, and then move on. Don’t be too verbose, just share a little bit and move on.
A phone call from time to time is good too. Just a brief “Hey, I was thinking about you today. I hope all is well. If I can ever be of any assistance to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to help.” And then really be there to help.
Lastly, and I learned this from Dave Lorenzo, don’t be afraid to spend a buck or 2 and send out a personal, handwritten letter or thank you note to somebody. I don’t do this often enough, but when I do, it works wonders.
Scott: Blogging has been used as a mechanism for online networking. How have you used blogging and other online tools to expand the amount of people you know?
Phil: Active blogging is a great way to get to know people who are of the same interest as you are. Linking out to others blogs and giving them some “link love” is a great way to develop relationships. I often do “drive-by” linkings with my del.icio.us links. I read over 300 blogs a day, and if I wrote a 500 word article for each awesome post I read, I wouldn’t have a job. So instead, I scan the articles, if they seem interesting, I bookmark them in del.icio.us and they automatically post to my blog. I often will go back and re-read the articles when I’m looking for inspiration on a particular topic.
Some of the other online tools I use are LinkedIn and Plaxo. I use them as desktop tools, as both have Outlook toolbars, and they work well in tandem. They allow me to collect e-mail addresses, and gather information about people, like when they celebrate their birthday online, if they have a blog anniversary, any particularly excellent post, etc. I try to keep people’s contact cards up-to-date, so if I find something useful for them, I can share it in a variety of mediums.
Scott: What beliefs do you have that you feel make you a great networker? What beliefs do you feel some people have that can limit them from meeting a wide range of interesting people and forming meaningful relationships with them?
Phil: Without sounding trite, I am very authentic, and I try to focus my energy on people I actually like, and not just on whoever is popular right now. This helps me be a much better networker than someone who just wants to meet powerful people.
I also try to connect with as many people as I can via e-mail first. As I mentioned, I read 300 plus blogs a day. Many of them are folks I’ve developed relationships with AFTER reading their blog for some time, and most are folks I’ve at least tried to develop a relationship with. I find that blogs can come alive when you actually know a little more about a person than just their articles.
I also am willing to do the hard work to develop a relationship. A lot of people say they want to be great networkers, but then they don’t take the time to develop the relationship. It takes time, so be patient.
I think some people think only “experts” can help them in relationships, and that they are not valuable enough to add value to someone else’s life. Take the time to think about how you can add value to someone’s life, and then do it. It’s not as hard as you think.
Also, don’t believe for a second that being a relationship geek is easy. It’s hard work, and it takes at least a little time every day. If you’re interested in developing this skill, just like anything else, you have to work at it!
Lastly, don’t believe that people don’t want to connect with you. People DO, but they often don’t know you exist. Send your favorite author (traditional or blogger) an e-mail or leave a comment on their blog and you’ll at least get some response. If you don’t get a response, maybe that person wasn’t worth developing a relationship with.
Scott: What have been the greatest benefits of being a “Relationship Geek”?
Phil: You get to meet some awesome people (I’ve met 20 or 30 people just because of blogs this year) and become friends with some of them, learn a LOT of cool stuff (I learned how to trackback and how to podcast thanks to a relationship I developed online), and I’ve gotten more than a few free books to read, review and share with others on my blog.
Phil runs his own blog, Make it Great! and recently published his first book, 10 Ways to Make It Great . The book is an excellent guide to take steps from turning the mediocre into the excellent and Phil’s natural enthusiasm and positive attitude flow from every page. You can check out 10 Ways to Make It Great here. You can visit Phil at http://makeitgreat.typepad.com/ .