Tips on building relationships when you can’t meet face-to-face

We’ve adapted and adjusted, and still things don’t feel right in our business. Most of us are still asking, “How can we do it?  How will we network?” and  “How will we learn anything new?” Under the practical questions, we’re asking the personal ones. “What will we do without the opportunity,  conviviality and exposure of in-person tradeshows, in-person meetings?”

We miss the group excitement of the tradeshows.  We miss the easy connections, the stimulation of seeing new developments, meeting new people. We miss getting out of the rooms we’ve been in since March, whether virtual or concrete. We can’t meet people, not really, not the way we did before, so now what?

And then there are the deeper anxieties: “I have to meet my goals, but what if I never meet new people again?” “ How will I learn what’s going on elsewhere?” “ I’m not sure I can make relationships work anymore; our connections  seem unconvincing, somehow, without being in front of people.”

Time to take a breath and think about all that really goes into making good business relationships. Looking at those elements again gives us a refreshed sense of agency—a renewed feeling that we have something to do about the situation we’re in.  You may have a few more, but here are the five hallmarks of a good business relationship we use for guidance at globalHMA.

  • Authenticity
  • Mutual respect
  • Trustworthiness
  • Shared values and goals
  • The willingness to be reciprocal

A good business relationship can outlast difficult changes of any sort.  So, how do we actually use these characteristics?


  • In the old days, did you reach out to others before you introduced yourself? And now, when you make contact, have you made sure they know your name and what you have to offer?
  • Have they seen your face or heard you speak, virtually, in at least one context?
  • Have you shared any conversation, and if so, have you made yourself recognizable in a congenial way?
  • Have you opened yourself to them as more than a face, as someone who can say “I was wrong,” or “I’ve had that difficulty, too”, assuring them you are a 3-dimensional person? Or have you kept up the shield of anonymity that virtual encounters offer all of us?


  • Does your attention in conversations invite them to speak to you openly, or do they seem to be just waiting for your sales pitch, anxious to get away?
  • When  you are on the receiving end of a pitch, and you know their claims aren’t based on knowledge, very little in that relationship will be built on respect. Do you want to try building on that, move on, or if you want their business, can you exercise patience in increasing their knowledge?
  • Do you listen with intention to understand? Respect is deeply rooted in the attention you pay others. You know you feel respected when others pay quality attention to you. Give them the same courtesy.
  • Discuss goals frequently; both of you want to be on the same page. Reiterate those goals throughout. When you keep shared goals in the forefront, both parties are shooting for the same results.


  • Trust extended to others is repaid with their trust in you, if you are trustworthy to start with: Do you rely on your ethics? Are you responsible with their time and money? Do you tell the truth fearlessly?
  • Make sure a client knows you will be rigorously mindful of the budget and never exceed it. Frequent communication, giving your client  status updates and results snapshots, increases common ground.
  • If something goes wrong, do you make it right, and do they do the same?

Shared goals and values

  • A little research ahead of time will tell you what the other person’s goals are. If you can help them meet those goals, you share common ground.
  • A good business relationship requires the common ground of shared company values. These go beyond personal behavior, of course—does a culture of inclusiveness at all levels of a business matter to you? Does inclusiveness matter to their company? Does your company take environmental responsibility seriously? Does theirs? Knowing these facts as you go into a new relationship is, as it has always been, essential to creating good business relationships.

Reciprocity, mutuality

  • In any exchange with them, are you engaging in a give and take? Are you working toward a good sense of cooperation?
  • Bring deep and detailed background understanding of their business to your relationship. Be mindful of what they need to accomplish their goals. Ask them how things are going from their perspective. Listen to learn.
  • Have you explored more than one topic of conversation together? Virtual connections involve clicking Leave or Close.  Reading those words over and over reinforces a tolerance of abruptness between people in virtual rooms. A good antidote to this habit is to talk with each other more than once before finalizing things. Build toward the expectation of many conversations in the future.
  • Let the other person talk. Ask questions that will give you both a chance to learn from each other. Be curious, bring interest, good humor, a sense of encouragement, and they will respond in kind.

Good business relationships provide high quality to our work, and those relationships carry the integrity of our companies far beyond profits and mission statements. We must be more intentional now than we have been. Relationships depend on our practice of the characteristics that create and strengthen good interactions. This is true whether on paper, online, virtually or, perhaps, now and again, in-person.


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