It never fails. I’m pushing against a deadline--no time to spare--and the phone rings.

I’m in a hurry, impatient, but the person on the other end is feeling chatty. Maybe it’s someone calling with a question. Perhaps it’s a writer who needs me to look up a photo or send a copy of a recent article. Or it might be a colleague looking to brainstorm. Whatever the reason, I really don’t have time to deal with it. But I act polite, put on a smile, try to be helpful and engage in the conversation … and then something remarkable happens. As I’m talking and listening, I begin to relax. My blood pressure drops. By the time I hang up the phone, I’ve probably spent more time away from my work than I should have, but I feel happier and more productive. More often than not, the interruption was just what I needed to recharge my mental battery.

When I first started my career, e-mail wasn’t an option, and it was easy to waste an entire day just making a few phone calls. The emergence of multiple electronic communication tools has made my life simpler in so many ways. But over time--almost imperceptibly--these tools have also isolated me, so that now a substantial amount of the interaction I have with other people is through a computer. While I’m much more efficient and more “connected” electronically to other people than I ever have been in the past, I can’t help but feel simultaneously disconnected … as if an important piece of my humanness has been hidden behind keyboards, smartphones and computer screens.

We’ve been conditioned as a society to continually do more with less and make every minute count, so that if we pursue any activity in business that doesn’t directly relate to dollars earned we’re perceived as wasting time. Technology has allowed us to become increasingly more productive−now one person with GPS and a robotic total station can handle projects that used to require several people and one person behind a computer can create deliverables in a matter of hours that once would have required days. While these developments have been undeniably positive, and technology advances will be even more crucial in allowing us to remain successful in the years ahead, it has become all too easy to let our longer-term relationship-building efforts slide. Even when faced with fewer projects or downtime due to the slow economy, our instinct is to immerse ourselves in tasks that are likely to provide the quickest payback and the most visible outcome. But aren’t we just shortchanging ourselves with this approach?

In the article “Smart Marketing in a Down Economy” (page 19), John A. Bologna, PE, CEO of Coastal Engineering Co. Inc., says that he spends a lot of time these days chatting with clients over a cup of coffee--not trying to sell them anything but simply catching up or commiserating. The time spent on such engagements isn’t billable, but he points out that “it’s really just part of good business whether we’re in a good economy or a bad economy.” (See page 20.) Mick Morrissey, managing principal of Morrissey Goodale LLC, agrees: “Ultimately, you want to become a valuable resource for any prospect--a connection they will actively seek and value.”

And it’s these types of connections we should all be seeking, not just with our clients but also with our colleagues and others with whom we come in contact. In business as in life, the bottom line is that relationships matter.

Of course, this is a principle that posters onRPLS.comhave understood for quite some time. And maybe this is why social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have recently been gaining so much ground. After years of walling ourselves in behind carefully constructed professional facades, we’re once again beginning to see the value in reaching out to each other as human beings−not just business prospects−by sharing bits and pieces of our common interests and challenges.

After all, you just never know where that time spent on an unexpected interruption or seemingly “unproductive” conversation might lead.

To contact the editor, send an e-mail to pobeditor@bnpmedia.