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Navigating Professional Relationships

From as early as high school, students become involved in societies and organisations that require them to make and maintain professional relationships. Whether this be with teachers/lecturers, companies or reps from other societies, your role as a society member has probably led you to meeting people you would not consider a friend, but need to maintain a good relationship with to continue working together.

“But how do I build a relationship without tagging them in memes?”, you may ask.

Fear not, my fellow young professional. I’m no expert on making friends, but I’ve learnt a few tricks on my journey as a Girl Boss.


1. Balancing Formal and Friendly

I’ve found that having a polite, formal first email sets the tone that you know what you’re doing and you’re making contact for a reason. When you start off too casually, you can come off as not being serious about the task at hand (the most important element of a WORK relationship). By introducing yourself and your society or business in a logical and clear way, you will impress your contact with your professionalism.

Once initial contact has been made, your emails can become slightly less formal. For example, signing off your emails with just your first name, or addressing the contact by their first name instead of their title and surname. Always read the (virtual) room, though. If your contact remains quite formal after a few emails, respect their boundaries and follow the tone of your initial email (NO MEMES). Some people warm up to you over email relatively quickly, but others don’t. It’s important to make sure that you don’t offend your contact or make them uncomfortable.


2. Follow Up

If you plan on maintaining a long-term relationship with a society or organisation, try to follow up with your contact for updates on how their society is going, and how they are doing. If you haven’t communicated in a while, this will make them feel valued. Your follow up should have a purpose though: if you had spoken about collaborating on a project, try to solidify a meeting to discuss or brainstorm your ideas.

While your primary form of communication may be emailing, don’t shy away from physical meetings, when appropriate. If your societies are collaborating on an event or project, in-person meetings can be more effective than sending Emails back and forth. Inviting other societies to your society’s social events can also be a more casual way to familiarise yourselves with each other. There are many benefits to having met your professional contacts, such as familiarity (leading to more organic and comfortable interactions) as well as humanising your email conversations. Your contact may be more willing to be involved in projects or initiatives if they know who you are.


3. Be Yourself

As a follow up to my ‘Follow Up’ tip: try to be yourself when you meet your contact. Figuring out how to act in a professional meeting can be tricky. Do I act natural and casual, or do I remain poised and formal? The safest route is probably somewhere in the middle. Prepare for meetings so that you don’t waste their time. Waffling and trying to think of things to talk about leaves a bad impression and reflects being poorly organised. By setting out an agenda, there will be a logical flow to your discussion and there won’t be awkward lulls. Once you have the framework for your meeting, you can present your ideas in a natural way.

It is important that your contact learns something about your personality or feels that you are being authentic, as being too reserved can make your contact feel that you don’t want to be there or that you are hiding something. Chances are, your contact is just as nervous about meeting someone new as you are. If you and your contact have good work chemistry, it is more likely that you will continue to work together in future and work more effectively because you are familiar with each other.

Once you’ve built a strong foundation of professionalism and respect, your relationship can grow as you and your contact feel appropriate. You could become friends beyond work or remain purely professional, but that part is up to you. If you reach a point where you are friends, you have my permission to tag them in memes.

Julia Naidoo is an English and Linguistics major at the University of Cape Town. She is the former co-Correspondent for the chapter as well as the former Senior Editor.
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