Every connection does not always become that dynamic, long-lasting relationship that we hoped it would be, and often, we have no idea why. From reading countless publications about networking and from my own observations and experiences, I came up with a model adapted from George Levinger’s famous 5 stages — Acquaintance, Build Up, Continuation, Deterioration, and Termination. My model for worthwhile relationships breaks down Levinger’s first three stages. By understanding this model, you can try to pinpoint where you are with your professional relationships, so you can start pushing along those relationships that you want to see evolve.
Disclaimer: Not every professional relationship you enter will be worthwhile (or can be), so keep that in mind. Also, don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t underestimate the potential value of any connection.
Levinger’s models dates back to the early 1980’s where this stage meant meeting someone for the first time and getting to know them. But we are in the digital age where people can “meet” you without ever saying a word, so for me this stage breaks down into two parts:
Stage 1: Awareness – Getting to know someone these days often begins with finding them online from social profiles to articles about them and comments they left on Yelp, so we are already forming opinions before we ever get formally acquainted.
Stage 2: Introductions – This is the stage where you actually meet the person, have a conversation, and figure out how you can help each other.
Again, I break Levinger’s original stage in two. I’m a fan of details, what can I say. In the original model, this is the stage where the two parties begin to trust each other. I do definitely think trust is built in this stage, but it’s just not quite established yet.
Stage 3: Incubation – After introductions, it’s common practice to go back home and reflect on the interaction you had with your new connection. During this time you probably ask other people you know if they know the person and what they think of them. You’re deciding if you want to move forward. This is a reflection period. Too often, we jump into relationships without any real thought, only to regret it later. Use this time to figure out if you can really help or grow with this new connection and if you think it has the potential to be a worthwhile relationship.
Stage 4: Support – Just because your new connection made it past the incubation period doesn’t mean you’re ready to trust them. It just means you are willing to give them a chance. During this stage you begin to support them in relatively small ways — attend an event, follow their business pages, make a purchase, etc. If all is going well, your connection is doing the same in return.
This is where professional trust is realized! In Levinger’s model, this stage is where people commit to a long-term, mutually beneficially relationship. This is the sweet spot of professional relationships. This is where you want to be. Once again, I’ve broken it down.
Stage 5: Routine – Before the fruits of trust can be reaped, some sort of routine has to be established and adhered to. Routines in worthwhile professional relationships don’t have a one size fits all. It’s whatever works for you and your connection. Maybe you meet monthly, quarterly…annually even! Maybe you give each other referrals at these meetings or maybe you just share ideas or attend events together. As long as you are both satisfied with the results of the relationship and it has some consistency and good communication, you’re good.
Stage 6: Trust – There’s that magic word. Once you’ve been in your routine for a while, you start to realize that you can trust each other. The mutual support and routine continues (though it may change at times). What you may notice at this stage is that the depth of support and conversations are deeper. Bigger referrals are made, pro-active feedback is given, insider information is shared. You are more willing to “stick your neck out” for each other…and that is a good place to be. This is what makes the relationship really worthwhile and invaluable.