5 Ways to Add Thanksgiving Flavor to Your Professional Relationships

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Photo credit: Cindi Albright, Flickr

The Thanksgiving holiday never fails to spark sentiment about the more important things in life: family, friendships, and food. But why can’t we include our work relationships on the list, too? Building rapport with clients, saying “thanks” to colleagues, and adding a personal touch to professional interactions are not only proper work etiquette — they’re also good for the soul.

The season of turkey trots and pumpkin pie is also the season of giving thanks, and it’s an excellent time to consider gracious ways you can reach out to your clients and coworkers to convey your appreciation. Here are a few ideas for showing gratitude to your work connections and bringing the spirit of Thanksgiving into your professional life:

  1. Think of ways to “pay it forward.”

If you believe in synergy as strongly as I do, you understand well the value of paying it forward — a term we fell in love with that Linkedin trainer and networking expert Sandy Jones-Kaminski introduced us to at this year’s agency summit! Nurturing a business relationship doesn’t have to stem from self-serving motives; it can arise from simply considering how you can be of service to others. Just reaching out to say “hello” to a contact you haven’t spoken with in a while is a good start. You can make someone’s day by offering to be a resource or asking how you can help him or her accomplish a goal. Maybe a contact is looking for a new job or advice on training. Maybe a client is interested in an association you belong to, looking for a contractor recommendation, or could use an introduction to someone you know who could help improve his or her business. Whatever it might be, you can learn a lot just by asking how you can help, and in turn, you strengthen the bond with your connections. Paying it forward pays off for everyone.

  1. At networking events, seek out the “party of one.”

You know who I’m referring to — those outliers who haven’t found a group of people to engage or can’t quite work their way into ongoing conversations, so they choose to shelter in the corner or linger awkwardly by the bar. Heck, you’ve probably been a “party of one” at plenty of previous events. That means you understand exactly how they feel. But you can improve the situation by adopting the persona of a host.

If you see someone lingering alone, approach that person with the genuine intention of making him or her feel welcome and comfortable. Offer a greeting, spark a conversation, ask about their life and interests — not just where they work or what they do for a living.

By simply seeking out a lone soul, you turn someone’s evening from torture to treat. And once you’ve established a rapport, you can team up to find others to join your tandem.

  1. Even at work, make a commitment to learn something non-work-related about people.

If you’re not sure where to start, think of your clients or colleagues and consider how you might introduce them to someone else. Does your introduction start with “He works at” then abruptly stop? If that’s the case, then it’s time to learn more about that person. Start by asking them about anything but work. It’s as easy as inquiring about upcoming holiday plans or if they caught last weekend’s football game . You don’t have to let your conversation end with a single exchange. Suggest a follow-up over coffee or at the office. Schedule to meet up for a run, to discuss a book, or attend an event if you’ve uncovered a shared enthusiasm. In both personal and professional life, showing interest is a means of showing gratitude for your relationships.

  1. Express gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude, remember to say thanks! Whether it’s the sales clerk at the mall or a co-worker who stepped up at the last minute to help with a project, acknowledging others’ contributions can lean to new opportunities. Plus, research tells us that practicing gratitude also reduces stress and boosts the immune system. It’s a win-win for everyone.

  1. Handwritten notes go a long way.

Consider snail mail as a “new” method of professional communication. Add a personal touch to your work relationships by making a habit of handwriting notes and mailing them. Write a few words of thanks when someone backs you up in a meeting, saves you a seat at a conference, or shares a tip that helps in your pursuits. Instead of just pressing the Like button on LinkedIn when a contact receives a promotion or acquires a new skill, jot down a few lines of congratulations on a notecard and pop it in the mail. Those few minutes of extra effort force you to really focus on the person in question. And in an age of mass-distributed, cookie-cutter missives, each of us feels a little delight when we receive a thoughtful handwritten note.

Thanksgiving marks the commencement of the holiday season, with family plans overtaking the schedule, and more activity packed into busier and shorter days. But consider blocking out a little bit of time each morning (or evening, if you’re a night owl like me) to think about gratitude in your professional life. Make a plan of action to practice some of the aforementioned suggestions; start a “To Do” list of ideas for reciprocating the kindnesses you experience at work; reach out to a few clients and colleagues you’d like to get to know better outside of work. Doing so is guaranteed to strengthen your business relationships and expand your network, but it will also warm your spirit.

And isn’t that all we want during the holidays? (Now, pass the hot cocoa!)

Tiffany Bryant can be reached at tbryant@sterlingpr.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyb.