Has this happened to you? You meet some great people on vacation. You really hit it off. When parting, you exchange contact information. You pledge to keep in touch, but it never happens.
You might have cousins or nephews living on the other coast. You are related, but no one extends themselves. You feel guilty when you see them at weddings or graduations. Making an effort to keep in touch is the right thing to do and a good investment of your time. But how do you make it happen?
Rationale For Keeping In Touch
Many people have outsourced keeping in touch to social media sites such as Facebook. They connect with lots of people, post photos and “like” or comment on posts from people they know. They still have face-to-face relationships. Immediate family is the most obvious example. They also encounter people at the gym or religious services, or while commuting and performing other daily activities.
But what about the people they know who live far away? Why make the effort to stay in touch?
1. Family health issues. Everyone is getting older. You want to know if someone in your extended family is suffering from physical illness or problems like dementia.
2. Family support. You may not be close enough to help with a relative’s grocery shopping, but you can provide emotional support. Spouses and parents die, and you want to extend sympathy to the surviving family members. On the happier side, family members marry and have children. You want to cheer them on and offer advice.
3. Family investing and business connections. Some families put their heads together to find jobs for family members. In the Asian community, it’s common for business ventures to be funded internally through investments from other family members.
4. Family inheritance. It would be tactless to stay in touch so you will be remembered when wills are written. That being said, “keep it in the family” is a powerful motivator. Better that a family member gets the money instead of the government.
5. Good friends are priceless. You likely know many people, yet only a few are your BFFs. If you were on your way to adding a new BFF on vacation, why would you lose that opportunity through neglect?
6. Can you ever have too many friends? That’s highly unlikely, although Audrey Hepburn had a great line in the movie Charade: “I already know an awful lot of people, and until one of them dies I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.” Cary Grant replied: “Well, if anyone goes on the critical list, let me know.”
What Are The Basic Rules?
OK, you’ve bought into the idea of making an effort to keep in touch with friends – past, present and potential. You’ve reached out on Facebook and LinkedIn. Here’s what to do next:
1. You make the first move. Inertia is powerful. You need to overcome it and reach out.
2. Find their preferred communication channel. Some people like email. Others text. Others message on social media. You might like the phone. Once you find the right channel for that friend, stick to it.
3. It’s not an even exchange. Think about a set of scales. You may need to put much more effort into initially building the relationship and then, later on, the other person will start doing their part.
4. Be supportive. You send a well-thought-out message on LinkedIn. They send back a thumbs-up. Thank them for responding. When you reward someone’s behavior, it encourages them to do more.
5. Friends will get along somehow. You might say: “I have all these friends, but they are from different worlds. They won’t get along.” Plan a holiday party or a summer barbecue. Invite several sets of your friends. You’ll be surprised at how many interests they have in common and the people they know.
11 Ways To Keep In Touch
Your goal is to move from a passive or even inert relationship to an active one. Here are 11 ways to do it.
1. Facebook. Social media is the obvious first step. Among the 2.32 billion monthly active users on Facebook, you will find many of those friends, while others will have not taken the plunge. You need to take that next step to actively reach out and communicate.
2. LinkedIn. Often described as the professional, business version of Facebook, LinkedIn has 590 million users. I find it’s a convenient way to initiate a link with people I haven’t seen in a long time. Also, every day, I try to send out five personal messages to get a dialogue going. When people sense you’re not sending them boilerplate text and you aren’t selling anything, they are usually responsive.
3. Holiday cards. You would think sending actual Christmas cards has died out. But, according to American Greetings, about 1.6 billion holiday cards are sold in stores each year. Enclose your annual letter, but try not to devote too much of the news to family members your friends won’t recognize.
Here’s the logic: Texting, e-mail and social media have literally emptied your physical mailbox. Most people just get bills and junk mail. A holiday card gets attention. It often gets displayed in the house. The recipient usually sends one back, if they haven’t mailed a batch already. We have an artist friend who draws a family portrait of us and our pets. It’s the artwork for each year’s card. He’s been doing this for more than 35 years.
4. Letter to friends. When my wife and I moved from New York to San Francisco on a work reassignment, we left many friends and clients behind. Every couple of months, we would write a letter to our friends telling amusing stories of day-to-day life in our new home. We mailed more than 50 copies of each letter!
Some recipients wrote back. Others called. Some didn’t. Former clients were thrilled to be considered friends. More than 20 years later, I occasionally hear from someone asking for advice.
5. Birthday and anniversary cards. The average American household buys 30 greeting cards each year, according to American Greetings. You have friends and family who live near and far. Build a list of birthdays and anniversaries. Transfer this data to a page-a-month calendar. Send birthday and anniversary cards. Cards to young nieces and nephews should include money. They will turn the card upside down looking for it.
6. Let’s do lunch. When I served on the board of a local museum, our chairman would call about every six weeks and suggest going out to lunch or dinner. Spouses were included. Usually it was one or two couples. He must have kept a schedule because it happened like clockwork.
7. Sunday morning calls. The phone still works. Thanks to Skype, international calls are cheap. We have a friend, living in England, who devotes time on Sunday mornings to calling friends near and far. It’s a scheduled item on her agenda.
8. Open invitation to visit. You met people on vacation. Get in touch afterward. Let them know you enjoyed meeting them. Invite them to stay a night or two if they travel to your part of the world. They will likely extend the same invitation in return. It’s your personal version of Airbnb. This brought us to England and New Zealand.
9. Look them up when you are in town. You travel for business. Keep a list of friends, organized by location. Before your next trip to that city, get in touch. Suggest getting together. Face to face always beats phone or written communication.
10. Throw a holiday party. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Send out an E-vite type of invitation to all those friends, regardless of distance. Those far away won’t attend, of course. Others will. They will meet your other friends. You will see them face to face. They will likely return the favor by inviting you over, too.
11. Go where they go. You ran with the gang at school. You haven’t seen them for years. If your school is local, they likely have alumni weekend, homecoming and other events to draw graduates back to campus. Go this year. Find the section for your class or decade. Catch up with classmates. Have those “Where are they now?” conversations.
Remind Me Again — Why Bother?
These are people you like. Getting back in touch should be rewarding. You have friends and interests in common. Most of these strategies require time, but very little cash outlay. They will be thrilled to hear from you and a little guilty they didn’t reach out first. You will reconnect with people who matter to you.