The People Connection

The People Connection

Author: Joel Peterson

In 2008, I flew to Chicago for my first SHRM national conference.  I traveled alone and didn’t know anyone attending the conference.  I spent every possible minute in session after session.  I was at all the keynote speeches. At the end of each day, I ran back to my room to type up my handwritten notes, read through the daily SHRM newspaer, and catch up on work I was missing while away.  At the end of the conference, I even bought the recordings of all the sessions. I thought I’d re-listen to the ones I attended and also listen to the ones I couldn’t go to when I got home.  Yeah, I’m an HR nerd. For sure.

In 2009, I hopped a plane to New Orleans for my second SHRM national conference.  I was determined to soak up just as much knowledge as I did the previous year…only more!  At first, everything worked just like in 2008. The sessions were good. I took copious notes. But to my surprise, I felt like I was missing something. But what? I had a jam packed schedule of sessions and events to go to.  What could I possibly have been missing?  The People Connection. I was filling up all my conference time with resources but not with humans!

Flash forward to the 2010 SHRM national conference in San Diego.  Learning from my discoveries of the year before, I made a conscious effort to balance my “resources” time with the need for “human” time.  I actually talked to people! I went to social events rather than scurry back to my hotel each night.  My note-taking dropped by the wayside but lo and behold, my conference experience felt more enriching.  As for what happened at the 2011 SHRM national conference in Vegas…I’ll leave that there.  But it was definitely a record year of People Connections that continue to this day.

To borrow from the classic Jule Styne song about people, Humans who need humans are the luckiest…Resources (?) in the world. Okay, that was a nerdy stretch but you know what I mean. People connections. Our inherent need for each other, to be connected is partly what motivates us and drives our choices in life.  Whether you are at a conference full of tens of hundreds of thousands of people or at home working in your HRDEPT1 zone, your People Connections are as essential to your tool kit as education, training, experience and everything else that makes up a good Human Resources professional.

If that is true though, why is it often the most under-rated of all our tools?  I’m no Dr. Phil- Oprah-Winfrey-guru so I won’t psycho-babble about why we don’t connect more than we do.   Instead, I’d like to point out that building yourself a network of People Connections is a lot simpler than you think.  To start, you simply need to ASK, ANSWER, and GIVE.


This is something we all know.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.  If you don’t ask to connect with someone, it won’t happen.  In the fast-paced world we now live in, none of us should expect people to come to us.  We’re all moving too fast as it is.  The days of demurely sitting by the phone are over.  If you want to connect with someone, ask them.

I realize that some of us are better than others at doing this.  But let me give you a tip.  If you ask to connect with someone you don’t need anything from (or before you need something from them), I bet you’ll find it easier to ask than you expected.  And the chances of them responding favorably are even better. Trust me, as someone who spends the majority of his day being asked for things, it’s wonderful when someone asks me to connect simply because they want to.

Remember – there should be no agenda or ulterior motive beyond simply expanding your People Connections.  If you make that clear and the person you’ve reached out to does not respond, you’ve lost nothing becauses you needed nothing.  Move on.  Keep asking.  You’ll eventually connect with someone who wants to connect with you.  But you won’t go anywhere if you simply stand next to your bike. Get on it and ASK!


Do you remember the silly (perhaps mythical) notes that got passed around in grade school?  They read, “Do you like me?  Yes, No, or Maybe?”  The note purportedly had little check boxes next to the “yes” the “no” and the “maybe” for the person to use to respond to you.  The flip side of the People Connection coin is that if you are asked to connect with someone, you have to ANSWER!  Yes, no, or maybe – it’s not hard.

Sorry but “I’m too busy” is L-A-M-E.  I’m an HRDEPT1 in New York friggin City – one of the most well-known epicenters of busy in the free world.  Being busy is no longer a sufficient excuse for me or anyone, especially with modern technology.  If you have time to breathe you have time to answer yes, no, or maybe to a simple request to connect. Just do it.

By the way, you may find that it takes more time and energy to NOT respond than it does to actually respond. You’ve surely been on the both sides of the People Connection coin already. So you know there is nothing more useless and annoying than an email, a text, a call that goes unanswered.  If you truly don’t have the time to connect, let the person know that.  There’s no harm in being honest.  But it is lame to not respond to a genuine call for connection.  Dude, don’t be lame!


This one is for both the requestor and the responder.  If you made the effort to ask for a connection or you’ve made the effort to answer a request for connection, it should go without saying but I’ll say it – you have to follow through and give some of your time and energy to the connection.

Requestor, you express a desire to connect and then drop the ball when you get a response?  Lame!  Responder, you make the effort to respond yes, no, or maybe and then vanish from the connection?  Lame!  I’ll say it again:  Dude, don’t be lame!

The bottom line is, and this particularly true for HRDEPT1’s, we need People Connections.  You need me and I need you.  So to ask for a connection or to answer a connection without follow through is like coffee without caffeine.  Or worse, a sugar free doughnut – WHY BOTHER.  But I promise you the rewards that come from giving of your valuable time to developing a People Connection are so worth it.  Here’s an example.

Building on my past conference experiences, I did something new to me.  On May 28th and June 2nd of this year, I connected with 25 (!) Human Resources colleagues over dinner.  The purpose of these dinners was to bring together people in the NYC area, who plan to attend the 2015 SHRM national conference, for a pre-conference gathering.  I put out the ASK and was happy that so many ANSWERS came back.

Prior to that evening, for the most part, we were all new to each other.  This was a group of professionals with varying titles, years of experience, and backgrounds.  They were all charming, fascinating people (thank the baby Jesus!).  When the meal began, we were strangers to each other.  I got such a delight watching these people forge new connections with each.  And all it took was my ASK, their ANSWER, and our collectively agreement to GIVE each other some of our time. By the time the bill came, there were no strangers, only acquaintances on their way to becoming colleagues and friends.

In a little over a week, this group of 25 people are all heading off to the 2015 SHRM national conference with a group contact list so that they can connect again with each other amidst the sea of HR professionals that will certainly fill the convention center in Vegas. But they are ahead of the crowd…they’re connected.

People Connections: ASK, ANSWER, and GIVE it a try.  You’re worth it!

Joel Peterson is Director of Human Resources and Administration at Goshow Architects in New York City.  Joel began his career as a professional actor before transitioning into Human Resources.  His diverse, creative background spans a variety of industries ranging from international education, the pharmaceutical industry, and public television. For the last eight and a half years, Joel has worked in the architectural industry where as an HR pro he helps build the people who build the buildings.  Outside the office, Joel is the Social Media Director for the New York State SHRM Council and volunteers for the New York State Special Olympics.


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