Web-based meetings with global teams. Strategy discussions on endless email threads. Social networking with "electronic" associates and friends. While powerful technological advances allow us to make instant virtual connections with our colleagues, they also contribute to a growing problem in business today. Increased connections aren't the same thing as productive connections. In fact, the decline in strong, effective business relationships is now taking a measurable toll: More careers seem stalled, more teams are struggling to perform, and more companies are suffering from unproductive workplace behavior. Ironically, all of those digital connections are creating a serious personal disconnect.
Gone are the days when we would carve out time every Friday morning to meet over breakfast with a seasoned adviser. Our mentors had time to discuss our progress, our interpersonal challenges, even walk us through options for handling difficult situations at work. Today, we rarely have time to reach out for sound advice and candid guidance. With quick rotational assignments and tight deadlines, our supervisors may not have the bandwidth or the inclination to provide the kind of support that historically transformed promising professionals into powerful leaders. Even trading meaningful suggestions and insights about our team interactions with co-workers over lunch seems to be a thing of the past. Clearly, the solution doesn't involve opting out of the Internet or giving up our mobile phones to restore the integrity of our business relationships. But it does mean that we need a more specific and proactive strategy to gather the necessary feedback to maximize our career growth.
A quick glance at the latest spreadsheet will tell us if we're on track to meet our department goals, but measuring our social fluency requires input from the people around us. How well do we communicate and collaborate with others? Are we effective at influencing our peers? How do we handle leadership roles? Those skills determine our success much more than the credentials listed on our resumes. But to evaluate and improve those skills, we need honest feedback from colleagues and co-workers we trust. Otherwise we run the risk of unintentionally sabotaging our careers with subtle behaviors that could hold us back.
Uncomfortable or not, we need to know how we're perceived. And that means we need to ask! While this conclusion might seem obvious, many people think that making an educated guess is good enough. Not true. To get an accurate picture of our professional blind spots, we must gather actual feedback from those who have real experience interacting with us in the workplace, observing our behaviors and communication styles.
Even if technology continues to depersonalize the business world, the most successful leaders today know the value of investing time and energy to maintain solid business relationships. When we have a place to check in, get support and safely hear the truth about our performance, we get the chance to view our professional reputations through the perceptual lens of our colleagues, co-workers and clients. With the distinct benefits of that personal feedback, we can minimize our professional blind spots, improve our workplace reputations, and create a significant edge in building our careers—even when we're bombarded by technology's ironic illusion of connectivity.