Podcast: How to Maintain Your Social and Professional Connections
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Careers Oct 4, 2017

Pod­cast: How to Main­tain Your Social and Pro­fes­sion­al Connections

Plus, send­ing a reg­u­lar let­ter to the boss” can help you when you need it most.

Friend and business connections require outreach.

Ani_Ka via iStock

Based on the research and insights of

Neal J. Roese

Craig Wortmann

Listening: How to Maintain Your Social and Professional Connections

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In many ways, our lives are about choic­es. Whether it is decid­ing between job offers, tak­ing the plunge on a new entre­pre­neur­ial ven­ture, or accept­ing a pro­mo­tion that means mov­ing out of state, these choic­es have con­se­quences for our rela­tion­ships with both friends and colleagues.

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In this episode of the Kel­logg Insight pod­cast, Neal Roese, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at the Kel­logg School, explains how the sci­ence of regret shows that stay­ing con­nect­ed to friends can make us health­i­er and hap­pi­er through­out our careers. He also clues us into how regret can moti­vate us to strength­en our friendships. 

Then Craig Wort­mann, a clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of inno­va­tion and entre­pre­neur­ship at the Kel­logg School and author of the book What’s Your Sto­ry?, offers advice for stay­ing in touch with busi­ness con­tacts as well as friends. A Let­ter to the Boss” that updates col­leagues on your pro­fes­sion­al achieve­ments and chal­lenges can remind them of your progress and keep you top of mind when oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties arise.

Pod­cast Transcript

Jes­si­ca LOVE: Neal Roese is the author of the book, If Only, and a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at the Kel­logg school. He has made a career research­ing the psy­chol­o­gy of regret.

Neal ROESE: Psy­cho­log­i­cal stud­ies of regret have as their back­ground basis the study of coun­ter­fac­tu­al think­ing. Coun­ter­fac­tu­al think­ing is all about our men­tal capac­i­ty to think about what might have been, things that didn’t actu­al­ly hap­pen but could have hap­pened differently. 

LOVE: Most of us are aware that our lives are a series of choic­es, and that some of those choic­es pre­clude oth­er choic­es. Our minds still like to game out the what-ifs of such choic­es, long after the deci­sions are made. 

ROESE: For exam­ple, I had made a par­tic­u­lar career choice to become a psy­chol­o­gist, but I could have been a den­tist. Some­times I think what would my life be like? I could have my hands in somebody’s mouth right now. It’d be real­ly great. I did this from a very ear­ly age think­ing about forks in the road, things I could have done dif­fer­ent­ly. You might say I’m a com­pul­sive naval gazer. 

LOVE: And whether we are navel-gaz­ers or not, we real­ize that these points when we choose one path over anoth­er can have pro­found effects on our career and our rela­tion­ships. Per­haps a move to a new city means the loss of close friend­ships, or a step up the career lad­der leaves less time to socialize. 

Roese’s research shows that the path we choose at these forks in the road can also have a pro­found effect on our men­tal and emo­tion­al well-being. Indeed, he’s found that feel­ings of regret can lead to depres­sion and anx­i­ety.

In oth­er stud­ies, he has found that one of the things we con­sis­tent­ly iden­ti­fy as being impor­tant is con­nec­tions with oth­ers, in par­tic­u­lar our close friends. Which means that los­ing close friend­ships is some­thing we are like­ly to regret later. 

Wel­come to the Kel­logg Insight pod­cast. I’m your host, Jes­si­ca Love. Today we’re going to hear from pro­duc­er Fred Schmalz about what the sci­ence of regret can teach us about keep­ing in touch with our friends as we move through our careers. We will also hear about a tool one Kel­logg pro­fes­sor rec­om­mends as a way to stay in touch with col­leagues near and far. 

Stay with us. 

[Music Inter­lude]

ROESE: A lot of young pro­fes­sion­als will be think­ing about, how do I best man­age my career ver­sus my mar­riage or my rela­tion­ship? And if I have kids, I’ve got to find a bal­ance for tak­ing care of my chil­dren. That’s all very salient. It’s all very top of mind. What’s less top of mind is the pow­er of friend­ships to cre­ate a bet­ter life. 

Fred SCHMALZ: That’s Neal Roese again. In Roese’s research into coun­ter­fac­tu­al think­ing — and how what-ifs” shape us — he finds that regret can have a pow­er­ful influ­ence on our sub­se­quent decision-making. 

So while it may be easy to see the impor­tance of main­tain­ing our fam­i­ly ties, we tend not to real­ize how much we’ll regret let­ting our friend­ships flick­er out. 

ROESE: I think that most peo­ple have a mod­er­ate degree of recog­ni­tion of the pow­er of oth­er peo­ple in their lives to make them health­i­er and hap­pi­er. But I do think that that mes­sage starts to reg­is­ter more as peo­ple get old­er. There’s a fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent psy­chol­o­gy of think­ing there’s all this time ahead of me, I can do what­ev­er I want, ver­sus I don’t have much time and I real­ly have to empha­size the things that mat­ter most. I don’t want to waste my time on things that to younger peo­ple seem per­fect­ly reasonable. 

SCHMALZ: For many of us, friend­ships tend to slip down our pri­or­i­ty list as we make career moves. When we — and those around us — switch jobs, employ­ers, even cities with any fre­quen­cy, it’s easy to go long peri­ods of time with­out reach­ing out to friends. 

You may be think­ing: But I still keep up with my high school friends on Face­book and Instagram. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Roese says, online con­nec­tions are often less sat­is­fy­ing than the in-per­son variety. 

ROESE: We real­ize that the pow­er of a close phys­i­cal con­nec­tion is para­mount. You can­not make a real­ly deep con­nec­tion by using media. It has to be face-to-face, and there’s some­thing incred­i­bly valu­able about that. The clos­er these per­son­al rela­tion­ships, clos­er psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly, the bet­ter the health out­comes that we observe. 

SCHMALZ: But not all friend­ships are cre­at­ed equal. 

So before you start reach­ing out to all your con­nec­tions and fill­ing up your social cal­en­dar with reunions, Roese rec­om­mends you spend some time think­ing about exact­ly which rela­tion­ships you want to nur­ture, and go for qual­i­ty over quantity. 

ROESE: So again, younger peo­ple, you might be think­ing Oh, more is bet­ter, more friends is bet­ter I’ll do more things and I’ll fill up my time with all these things with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly rec­og­niz­ing that there’s vari­abil­i­ty in the qual­i­ty of the con­nec­tions. Where­as, sev­er­al old­er peo­ple that I talk to feel it seems like they come to a junc­tion, a place in their life where they real­ize my time is now so pre­cious that it can­not be squan­dered with social inter­ac­tions that are bad for me… and so they find it eas­i­er to make that break, and make that cut. 

SCHMALZ: And if you’ve lost an impor­tant friend­ship? It turns out that the sad­ness that comes with that regret can actu­al­ly come in handy as you work to nour­ish oth­er relationships. 

In one research study, Roese asked par­tic­i­pants ques­tions about quote, unquote neg­a­tive emo­tions.” Things like anger, fear, guilt, and, yes, regret. He found that peo­ple viewed regret more favor­ably than unfa­vor­ably. And he found that peo­ple ascribe great worth to regret. Par­tic­i­pants said that of all the neg­a­tive emo­tions, regret was the most help­ful one when it comes to mak­ing future decisions. 

ROESE: You might have heard some peo­ple say, I live my life with no regrets.” I think there’s actu­al­ly rather few of us that tru­ly do. The peo­ple that say that, for the most part, are engag­ing in an avoidant cop­ing strat­e­gy. What they’re say­ing is they’re try­ing to avoid or ignore their emo­tions. Where­as, oth­ers of us actu­al­ly do bet­ter, but with a more active cop­ing strat­e­gy, which means you rec­og­nize a prob­lem, you rec­og­nize the emo­tion, but then you take active steps to cor­rect it. 

SCHMALZ: So don’t be too quick to push aside thoughts of the friend you nev­er hear from any­more. Remem­ber­ing and regret­ting that loss can help moti­vate you to strength­en the friend­ships you’ve kept. 

If you need addi­tion­al moti­va­tion to con­nect with friends, con­sid­er this: If you don’t reach out, not only are you like­ly to regret it lat­er, but Roese’s research has shown that this regret is like­ly to last a long, long time. 

ROESE: Well there’s just one ques­tion that peo­ple keep ask­ing me over and over again, which is, do we regret more the things that we do ver­sus the things we didn’t do? 

Over­all, look­ing at the typ­i­cal Amer­i­can, it’s a pret­ty even bal­ance. How­ev­er, the big dif­fer­ence is in how long those regrets last. And so, the things we didn’t do tend to haunt us longer. It sits in my imag­i­na­tion and I unpack it and think about it and poke it around a bit day after day, and it tends to last longer. 

[Music Inter­lude]

SCHMALZ: So it’s impor­tant to main­tain close per­son­al con­nec­tions as we get old­er. But what about main­tain­ing active ties to our career con­tacts and con­nec­tions? How do you keep in touch with that con­sul­tant you sat next to at a con­fer­ence three years back? 

Craig Wort­mann, a clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of inno­va­tion and entre­pre­neur­ship at Kel­logg, is inter­est­ed in how busi­ness lead­ers present them­selves to pro­fes­sion­al con­tacts in a way that encour­ages connection. 

Craig WORT­MANN: The key les­son is that we should be striv­ing to com­mu­ni­cate well, very clean­ly, in a very tight space, very beau­ti­ful­ly with the peo­ple that we care about, the peo­ple that are try­ing to help our careers, or that we just report to or are respon­si­ble to. 

SCHMALZ: One tool he rec­om­mends for keep­ing in touch is some­thing called a memo to the boss.”

WORT­MANN: it’s very sim­ple and… boss should be in quotes, because it doesn’t mat­ter who the memo is to. 

A "Letter to the Boss" might look something like this.

SCHMALZ: The memo to the boss” is an eas­i­ly digestible one-page doc­u­ment that explains what you’re work­ing on, what you’ve already done, and what you could use some help with. 

Wort­mann encour­ages peo­ple to send it to their con­tacts — a wide range of con­tacts — on a reg­u­lar basis. 

WORT­MANN: You can do it with your net­work. You can do it with LinkedIn. You can do it with your Kel­logg bud­dies, and you can cer­tain­ly do it at work. 

SCHMALZ: Why should you do this? Well, the memo’s exact PUR­POSE is going to shift from sit­u­a­tion to sit­u­a­tion. If your memo is going to a new boss, it might be about mak­ing a strong first (or sec­ond, or third) impression. 

But if it’s going to for­mer cowork­ers you haven’t seen in years, it’s a great way of breath­ing some new life into those old­er con­nec­tions. Because… why not? 

WORT­MANN: You nev­er know what’s going to hap­pen with those. Let’s say you reach out to ten peo­ple in a giv­en quar­ter. You’re reac­ti­vat­ing peo­ple you haven’t talked to in three years. One of those is going to reach back to you and say, Wow. It is so good to hear from you.” That may turn into a cof­fee, and that may turn into a busi­ness rela­tion­ship. It often does. And I have no idea what the math is, but the math is in your favor. 

SCHMALZ: This is some­thing he rec­om­mends to peo­ple at all stages of their career, by the way. And yes, he does it himself. 

But if you’re going to both­er to write and send a memo, go all in. 

WORT­MANN: You wouldn’t send your mom an email on her birth­day, prob­a­bly. You go and you get a card, and you write the card. That’s sim­ply what I’m ask­ing peo­ple to do, but it’s consistent. 

When I say beau­ti­ful, I mean beau­ti­ful. Beau­ti­ful design, col­or­ful, graph­ics, not tons of words, prob­a­bly your pic­ture on it. 

SCHMALZ: That might seem like a lot of trou­ble for an email memo. But a savvy memo dis­tin­guish­es you from the scrum of every­day com­mu­ni­ca­tion that we are con­stant­ly besieged by — what Wort­mann calls the infor­ma­tion landfill.” 

WORT­MANN: We think we’re com­mu­ni­cat­ing with our boss­es or our con­stituen­cy through email or Face­book posts or LinkedIn, and those are all valid. I’m not dis­parag­ing them, they’re valid forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This is some­thing special. 

SCHMALZ: Wort­mann rec­om­mends that the memo land reg­u­lar­ly, and at least quarterly. 

WORT­MANN: They know it’s com­ing. You’re pre­dictable. Oh, my gosh. Here’s this thing from Fred.” 

Whether they read it every month or every quar­ter or not, it doesn’t mat­ter, but you, the ben­e­fit accrues to you because you’re the per­son con­sis­tent­ly send­ing it. 

Peo­ple go, Oh, she’s the one that always sends that memo. I love that memo. I look for­ward to that memo.” 

SCHMALZ: Your memo to the boss — well, one that actu­al­ly goes to your boss — might include a list of steps you’ve tak­en toward your goals, peo­ple you’ve met with, recent insights you’ve had, and upcom­ing meet­ings or con­fer­ences you’ll be attending. 

Wort­mann says it’s impor­tant to men­tion more than just the good stuff you’ve done. Be hon­est. Bring up your fail­ures, too. 

WORT­MANN: When you say in writ­ten form on a memo, Here’s what I’m strug­gling with,” that is an hon­est rep­re­sen­ta­tion, because things are not always per­fect. I think there’s a dis­ad­van­tage to show­ing up in any sit­u­a­tion, any com­mu­ni­ca­tion sit­u­a­tion, and being over­ly per­fect or pol­ished. You’re just work­ing at it, and it’s very gen­uine. And that’s what I think makes you magnetic. 

SCHMALZ: And your memo doesn’t have to be all about you, either. Think of it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask peo­ple in your broad­er net­work ques­tions about them­selves, their lives, what thrills them about what they’re work­ing on, and what’s keep­ing them up at night. 

And think beyond your career, as well. 

Wort­mann rec­om­mends adopt­ing this for­mat to send reg­u­lar updates to friends and fam­i­ly as a way to strength­en con­nec­tions — or to show loved ones what you are up to. 

One of his MBA stu­dents did just that by writ­ing a memo to his fiancé about his progress plan­ning their wedding. 

WORT­MANN: He had a… I think it was a booze-o-meter about how much mon­ey they were spend­ing on alco­hol on the wed­ding. It was just absolute­ly hilar­i­ous, but also rich. It actu­al­ly got work done. The memo like gave her an update on what he was respon­si­ble, on the wed­ding what he was respon­si­ble for. 

SCHMALZ: Back in the pro­fes­sion­al world, Wort­mann is start­ing to notice busi­ness­es cre­at­ing per­son­al­ized video spin­offs of the memo to the boss” con­cept as a way to nour­ish con­nec­tions with customers. 

WORT­MANN: One of the things I’m see­ing on YouTube increas­ing­ly is busi­ness­es thank­ing their cus­tomers via a very, very quick video, and they just— it’s a hand­held. They’re hold­ing their phone out in front of them and they say, I just saw one on a vine­yard. Got your order for three cas­es of our Mer­lot. I just want to say thank you on behalf of the vine­yard,” and they’re stand­ing in the vine­yard. That stuff makes a huge difference. 

[Music Inter­lude]

LOVE: That was report­ed by Fred Schmalz, who notes that you can find an exam­ple of one of Wortmann’s Mem­os to the Boss” on our web­site. So check it out. 

This pro­gram was pro­duced by Jes­si­ca Love, Fred Schmalz, Emi­ly Stone, and Michael Spikes. It was writ­ten by Anne Ford. 

Spe­cial thanks to guests, Neal Roese and Craig Wortmann. 

You can stream or down­load our month­ly pod­cast from iTunes, Google Play, or our web­site, where you can read more about mak­ing per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al con­nec­tions. Vis­it us at insight​.kel​logg​.north​west​ern​.edu. We’ll be back next month with anoth­er episode of the Kel­logg Insight podcast. 

Featured Faculty

Neal J. Roese

John L. and Helen Kellogg Professor of Marketing, and Professor of Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences

Craig Wortmann

Clinical Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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