ForWard Fireside Chat: Building Meaningful Relationships Remotely

As the pandemic continues to make face-to-face meetings impossible, the second in the AHLA’s virtual ForWard fireside chat series tackled the challenges of building meaningful relationships without the human touch so prized in the hospitality industry. This time, ForWard Chair and Senior Vice President of Development for Marcus Hotels & Resorts Andrea Foster spoke with Denise Thomas, President of The Effective Communication Coach, LLC, who shared ideas on how to make the vital connections that are at the heart of all relationships—both business and personal—during these communication-challenged times.

Thomas describes herself as “an excessive talker” who was lucky enough to have a mother who saw her daughter’s penchant for talking—apparent at an early age—“as a gift, not a hindrance,” and steered her toward productive outlets including Toastmaster and debate clubs and junior radio broadcasting. Once in the working world, she says, she found new ways to channel this bent. “I was always intrigued by and connected to how people used communication to build meaningful professional relationships, and I used that to advance in Fortune 500 companies including General Electric and Pepsico and to build my consulting business.”

Thomas observes that, just a generation or two ago, women were reluctant to use their voices, but says that knowing they have a voice and using it effectively “is what differentiates a leader from others.” She says further that “mindset is everything” when it comes to leading during a time as chaotic as the current one, adding, “Gaining a sense of control requires calling on skills that may not come naturally—including acknowledging your fears, verbalizing what you need, and, most of all, asking for help.”

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For starters, she says, “It’s important for women to take inventory—making an actual list—of the things they need to lead effectively during this experience of self-quarantining, and apply that to their mindset every day.” She reminds them to reflect on and make use of work-at-home “silver linings,” such as being able to get on a busy executive’s calendar for the first time.

Thomas points out some of the many things to consider when reaching out virtually, when, as she puts it, “everyone is ‘Zoomed out’ and facing a deluge of emails, texts, and other forms of electronic communication.”

One very big no-no in her book is wasting a communication opportunity with what she calls “fan mail.” “Whatever the platform—Facebook, email, LinkedIn, Twitter, text, or Zoom, ask yourself this: “Do I sound like a fan, or do I sound like someone the person on the receiving end of my message would want to connect with?”

She says getting it right may boil down to knowing who you are, what you have to offer, and what you hope to achieve. She herself has an actual mission statement designed to convey how her team can help a potential client or associate and to foster effective and meaningful relationships.

Thomas says, too, “To cultivate or ignite a relationship, you need to know your audience—i.e., don’t expect you from others.” She says an important part of relationship building with potential partners can come down to just asking them what they want—for example, “What do you need from me as a potential vendor, consultant, etc., in order to thrive in this environment?” She says further that the communication is most likely to be positively regarded—and read—when it conforms to the target’s communication preferences—e.g., text, not email—and addresses their concerns.

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