More and more these days, we’re hearing about the importance of relationships. “Relationships are everything.” From building great teams, to handling challenging problems between organizations, to driving an initiative in your local government or school, the way we interact with people has a great deal to do with our success.
Working in what I call “a relationship company” for the past six years has driven this point home in a way I never imagined. I have always been someone who wants to build great teams to do great things, but when nearly everything you do is about ensuring the positive direction of a relationship with your clients, the aspects of this start to come into focus way more than before.
But like many things, “have good relationships with people” is just too broad. I might as well tell you to boil the ocean. So, I’m going to share with you a few simple and approachable first steps that have helped guide me down a long and complex path.
If your only goal in all of this is “just to sell stuff”, or to further whatever your personal agenda is, you’re going to have some challenges. Having an effective relationship with someone is, first and foremost, about having that relationship. All the other stuff is the by-product. So, do what you can to re-align your brain to only care about developing that relationship, and let the other things come as they will.
Do What’s Right
This is a nuanced topic, because the simplest way to approach this is “just do what’s right for the other person”, but you also need to keep in mind that you must do what’s right for everyone involved. People would love you to give away your company’s service for free, but then how do salaries get paid? It can be a little bit of a balancing act, but if you’re striving to do what you can for everyone involved, it is generally going to work out alright. Particularly because all those people are going to know you’re trying to do what is right for others, so they are almost invariably going to be trying to do the same for you.
Every organization or group is made up of individuals, and while those individuals may share characteristics or drive with the others in that group, they are still their own person. If you approach every individual in the same way, you’re going to stumble onto some landmines, and be very unfortunately surprised at the result. This gets more complex when you’re dealing with multiple individuals at once, of course, but everything you do must be tailored to the audience. Always keep your mind tuned in to the audience.
I like to wear slippers and shorts to work. Sometimes I’ll wear jeans with holes in them or Hawaiian shirts. But I’m not going to go to a sales meeting wearing pink rabbits on my feet. Well, unless I happen to be a pink rabbit slipper salesperson. You do have to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism to appeal to the individuals you will be interacting with.
Be yourself. People are well conditioned to weed out a phony, but if you adhere to who you are, it’ll most likely keep you out of trouble. I have a quirky sense of humor and prefer to be direct and honest with people. If I ever try to be overly formal or try to beat around the bush, I tend to come off as stiff or evasive, and people will respond with that glazed-eye look that we’ve all seen. Whereas, surprisingly, I can say things like “we’re like a lot of other IT service providers, only we don’t suck”, and get a genuine laugh, and then we can talk seriously about why that is the case. Now, am I going to pull that stunt with someone who clearly doesn’t have a sense of humor? Or someone who clearly appears to value formality? Uh, no. Humor, by the way, is a particularly powerful- but potentially dangerous- tool. Careful with it. Again, know your audience.
While not every person out there is someone you want to be best friends with, pretty much all people are totally fascinating if you make the effort to find out more about them. They have all sorts of amazing interests and knowledge and are often very happy to talk about them. I have had some of the most amazing conversations with people about being a waitress, playing in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, working on a farm, editing fantasy novels, serving on an aircraft carrier, serving drinks in a bar… you name it. I’ve learned crazy things about building custom guitars, becoming a writer, making your own beer, finishing a basement, and more. People all have all kinds of stories and interests, and its great fun to learn about them. People really enjoy talking about them as well. All you need to do is ask, listen, and appreciate.
Is that all?
To be honest, I doubt it. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I can always look back at myself from ten years earlier and think “oh man… if I just had a time machine.” Who hasn’t said to themselves “If I knew in high school what I know now…”? You may well be that person ten years ahead of me who has learned even more. Or you may be a savant at this at age eighteen and be laughing at all I’ve left out. If so, great! Please reach out and share a bit of your experience with me. I’m still working on it. I think we all are, or we certainly should be. The world won’t get better by a lack of positive relationships, so let’s work together to try to create a few.