COMMENTARY: In person tops online

By Elizabeth Jolliffe

Mitch Albom's column on the demise of Cupid's arrow made me laugh. The image of Cupid in an overcoat, hunched at a computer, making matches by moving photos around with a cursor actually made me laugh out loud.

A lot of well intentioned people do believe that being online is the key to relationship building, personal and professional. Yes, some people do meet their true love online. Some people do develop excellent online business relationships. But if you don't attend the trade association conference, your law school reunion, or the bar association happy hour, you won't know who you didn't meet, the laughs you might have shared and what else you might have had in common.

And although you can initiate a relationship online, the realist in me knows that lasting relationships develop over time and with personal attention. Successful personal relationships require mutual attraction, dependable character and emotional stability, among other things. Lasting business relationships require similar shared characteristics.

Think about trust. Who do you trust more quickly, all other things being equal, someone you have only communicated with online, or someone you have also met in person or at least talked to numerous times on the telephone? How quickly do you realistically expect people to trust you and on what basis?

You can act solely online and hope your new love, client contact or potential business partner is the stable, dependable person they seem to be. More importantly, you can hope they will take a leap of faith and believe that about you and then hire you or send you referrals. Or you can meet them and get to know them and their challenges, and they can get to know you. You can both learn from experience over time whether the fundamentals exist to make this a long term successful relationship.

You cannot learn these things just by chatting online, exchanging v cards, sending LinkedIn invitations and FaceBook friend requests, or following each other and everyone else on Twitter.

David Maister, an authority on managing professional service firms, and co-author of "The Trusted Advisor," recommends using rules of romance to improve business relationships. His rules include going first, expressing appreciation, listening for what is different, asking questions, and showing an interest in the other person. These rules struck a chord with me several years ago and they mean more in these times of uber social media and online networking.

An acquaintance of mine just got engaged to a man she has known less than two months. I have no idea how she met him. I hope the relationship is a success. Perhaps this will be the one.

Give your business and personal relationships the best possible chance of success. Do not rely solely on online networking to build relationships. Do not expect success from a whirlwind romance of potential clients and referral sources. Use fundamentals like personal attention, listening and understanding to build the trust that leads to successful long term relationships.


Elizabeth Jolliffe is a certified career management and business development coach for lawyers. She practiced for 19 years as a business litigator and partner at Clark Hill PLC. Elizabeth helps her clients take charge of their practice and career. She can be reached at

Published: Fri, May 11, 2012


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