At one of my previous employers, there was a mantra drilled into our marketing minds with relentless vigor. If followed, it was your key to success. If ignored, you were ignored.
“It’s all about relationships.”
I heard it so often, it was the punch line of many sarcastic workday jokes, but down to my core, it stuck. I drank the Kool-Aid and I’m so glad I did. A maniacal focus on building and nurturing relationships has driven my approach to managing my career and developing my business. It continues to give me the momentum I seek—and provide my greatest reward—strong, fulfilling connections that fuel me.
Here are my four relationship reminders that work for both people who excel at creating new connections and for those who wish it wasn’t part of the job.
1) When you click, take a risk:
You know those moments when you meet someone at an event and your banter is unfolding like a comedy routine you didn’t even know you were a part of? The energy, the interest and the curiosity to know more—they’re firing on all cylinders. And then you leave, only to never see this person again. What a missed opportunity! Even if your gut is telling you to play it safe, that it will be awkward to reach out to this near stranger—take the risk to ask for his or her card and then follow up! You never know how your life or your career will be enriched by this person. And even if you simply have one or two more conversations like this one…isn’t it worth it?
2) Listen more than you talk:
This is a gem that bears repeating and is something I’m personally working on right now. When you hypothetically see an ENT after four bouts of laryngitis, a scope goes up your nose and down your throat and you’re given the diagnosis, “voice overuse”, it’s something you start to think about. For frequent talkers like me, deep listening is a skill to be practiced and honed. As my listening muscles have developed as part of my coaching experience—I’m continually amazed at what can be understood from that which is unsaid. In a world of incessant talking, people crave being heard and understood. It is something that will transform your relationships if you give it the time and space it deserves.
3) Let your guard down:
While you can start off conversations in your safe zones—areas you know you’ll have a connection (ie. meetings, coworkers, projects, your kids that are the same age), push yourself to go deeper and off-script. It’s not necessary to share your deepest and darkest—but—asking questions about how people met their significant other or where they were raised generally takes the conversation to a more vulnerable place. You can talk about something you’re still trying to figure out with your child or your work or where you want to go in your career in general. Admitting you don’t know it all is honest and authentic and real. That’s what’s interesting to others and makes people want to know more about you. It will drive a deeper connection because people can relate to that feeling of “not knowing.” They may even be feeling it right now.
4) Think human, not hierarchy:
When you’re at drinks after work and talking with someone who is more senior than you, often times you may get nervous and feel like you’re stumbling on your words. Your inner critic may be having a simultaneous conversation that is so loud, you can’t even hear yourself think! “You’re blowing this! Don’t even try. Just. Stop. Talking!” I beg of you. Don’t listen to her. She wants to keep you where you are. She doesn’t realize that you said you were going to build strong relationships in 2017. Or she does and she’s there to stop it from happening. Instead, think of this person as human, flawed with quirks that make him or her interesting. Try to talk about things outside of work: family, vacation plans, podcasts you listened to in the past week, your French Bulldog fascination—get outside the realm where you’re a Manager and he’s an SVP and simply be homo sapiens, enjoying a nice Malbec, some appetizers and interesting conversation.
Building relationships is a dance you can learn. It’s not over for you if you feel like you haven’t been good at it up until now. There’s time to evolve your style and your skills—and it’s well worth the effort.