The 80/20 rule for Virtual Relationships (Part III): Double-Down and Ramp Up Intimacy

In the first post of this four-part blog series, we introduced what we called the (new) 80/20 rule for virtual relationships. For anyone seeking a “silver bullet” to build virtual relationships, focusing too much on the “virtual” part of “virtual relationships” becomes an easy distraction from what really matters.

Now is the time for 80% focus on our relationship EQ and 20% focus on improving our virtual IQ—not the other way around.

We introduced the trust equation in Part II of the series as a framework to do just that, sharing our favorite low self-orientation relationship builders (the 80%) and behaviors to incorporate specifically for virtual interactions (the 20%). Today look at the most powerful trust-building factor: intimacy.

Intimacy

The most common failure in building trust is the lack of intimacy. Some professionals consider it a positive virtue to maintain an emotional distance from their clients. We believe that they do so not only at their own risk, but also to that of their clients.

Double down on time-tested relationship principles (80%)

  • Listen with earnest empathy. And then do it some more. And some more. Borrowing Charlie Green’s wise words: “Wow” is a complete sentence.” So is “Ouch,” and “Good on you!” Statements of empathy are ways of mirroring emotions, and empathy is key for connectedness and influence.
  • Create “small talk” moments. Neuroscientists teach us that something as simple as the exchange of pleasantries (like talk about the weather) produces feel-good chemicals in our brains that promote bonding. Go one step further and ask about the photo you see on the bookshelf behind them. Small talk can facilitate a big personal connection.
  • Dare to talk about feelings (yours and theirs). We all have them, and they’re a legitimate part of professional life. Steer towards first-person language when you focus on their feelings, as in, “I’m sensing hesitation” (compared to, “You’re hesitating”) or “If it were me, I think I’d probably feel …” (instead of, “You probably feel …”). Speak candidly about your own feelings, as in, “Well, I’m a little concerned about …,” or “At the risk of being the outlier, I’m not on board yet with this idea.”
  • Let others get to know you. For real. Now is not the time to err on the side of “buttoned up”; now is the time to connect meaningfully across our humanity. Fortunately, our collective context makes it both relevant and easier to reference our outside lives. Take emotional risks. Beware the temptation to make excuses or hide the truth—if you have to cut a call short to help your child with homework, be honest about it. Charlie also reminds us, “Don’t legislate cats out of the picture.”
  • Ask for feedback. Be proactive about seeking critique. Ask well crafted, open-ended questions that help with the inertia that most clients have to overcome to say something unfavorable. Be equally willing to take in their positive remarks. And don’t just ask about content and task; inquire about the quality of your relationship, too.

Ramp up your virtual best practices (20%)

  • Seek greater (emotional) bandwidth. Try a higher medium of communication than you did six months ago. Debating over text versus email? Go with the one that’s a little riskier because it’s more intimate. Also remember the forgotten application embedded in our smart phones: the phone itself.
  • Attend to nonverbals more than before. We’re all at a massive communication disadvantage, far more consistently than we once were. Practice making regular “eye contact,” for example, which means letting them look you in the (camera) eye. Tune into—and make deliberate use of—the sight and sound senses that are still available: voice modulation, gestures, movement.

The behaviors that build intimacy—discretion, empathy and personal risk-taking— create emotional safety for the other person. Intimacy was already the most important factor in the Trust Equation, and in times of stress, it’s vastly more valuable.

In our final post of this series, we’ll explore increasing credibility and reliability in virtual relationships.