No man is an island. Human beings are relational creatures. Because of evolution, we have become social beings who depend on the cooperation of one another to enhance our ability to survive rather than improving. In the modern world, surviving the harsh elements of the stone age is less but people have continued to enjoy the company of others.
No human being is totally self-reliant. Human beings are social. We need the interaction of others to thrive. At the workplace, office camaraderie can increase productivity. We work better in an environment where we have others to bounce ideas off and to work out solutions to problems.
Your business (or work-life) is a reflection of your personal life – one influences the other. If you are unhappy at work, you translate some of your unhappiness to your home environment and vice versa. That’s the reason why when I talk about relationships at my leadership workshops, I usually group the two together. Let’s face it, if you find it difficult to build relationships at home, it can affect your work and stop you from shining in the workplace.
Why build successful relationships?
When it comes to building a successful relationship whether it’s on the personal or business front, your goal is to gain the person’s trust and connect in a meaningful way. No one is going to want to build a relationship with you if you don’t care about them. So, the first thing you have to do is ensure that you are authentic when you reach out to the individual.
Early on in my career, I had to do a lot of networking to grow awareness for my business. I hated the ‘salesy’ networking events I attended because every person attending the event had something they wanted to sell to you. So, I decided to organise my own networking events based on shared interests. I made the events lighthearted and fun. The events were a hit. Along the way, I made some genuine friends who have helped me grow my business. If you are friendly and approachable and your attempt at friendship is genuine, people respond to you in kind. They become interested in what you are doing and won’t hesitate to help you succeed. That’s what I call a win-win relationship.
Whether you are running a business, looking to make more money in your life, progressing your career, aiming for a promotion, or aspiring to be a better leader, fostering strong relationships with people is essential for your success. The networks you build today will help you succeed tomorrow.
3 keys to successful relationship building
In my recent bestselling book on leadership, I wrote extensively on how you can build better relationships in your personal and business life.
Here are some useful tips on relationship building from the book. If you would like to know more, you can check out the chapter on ‘Relationship Building’ in the book: “Great Leadership Starts with You”.
1. Gift time.
Time is precious so if you can give people your time, you are giving them a beautiful gift. Sometimes we forget to give ourselves and the people around us time. We may be too busy chasing our career goals, running a business or studying for our exams. During these times, it’s easy to forget about ourselves and others.
To build great personal and business relationships, set aside some quality time to foster friendships and grow relationships. When you have allocated the time, be sure to give it your 100 percent focus. Don’t go to a reunion lunch with friends you haven’t seen for years only to spend all the time on your phone with the office. If you are having a coffee with your team, try focusing on enjoying that great brew instead of talking business the entire time.
Everyone knows the importance of networking. That’s why we attend networking events and we mingle when we are attending functions. Mingling and handing out business cards is not networking. Networking is about building a strong connection with people you think can help you now or sometime in the future. When the time comes to call upon these contacts, do you think the person who can barely remember you will go out of his or her way to help you? Probably not. The next time you network, try connecting, not collecting. By this I mean, connect with fewer people but on a deeper level. Even if it means collecting fewer business cards. Remember, you are not a card collector.
2. Be patient. Listen. Feedback.
Whether you are in a department meeting, at a family gathering or on a date, it’s important that you learn to be patient and give others a chance to speak. In a work context, allowing your employees a chance to speak is important for their emotional wellbeing and motivation. Employees feel included and valued if their managers encourage them to speak up. They are more motivated to work for the company and more open to change when it happens.
When you have invited others to speak, pay attention and do not interrupt them. You don’t like it if someone interrupts you mid-sentence so don’t do it to others. Also, giving people a chance to speak is counterproductive if you are not listening to what they have to say. Imagine the manager who invites feedback and when people are speaking, decides it is a good time to check his or her emails. Or worse. Talk over them.
Finally, don’t forget feedback. When giving feedback don’t be critical. Be constructive. Consider offering suggestions for improvement rather than criticism or censure. I find the feedback sandwich really works for me when I am dealing with sensitive issues. A feedback sandwich method is one where negative feedback is enveloped in praise. A feedback conversation begins with praise, followed by the negative issue you want to address and ends with another compliment or praise of the individual. It is an effective way to address performance issues with an employee.
There is no place for bias and prejudice in feedback. No matter how much you may dislike an employee’s sense of style, if they are a good worker, you tell them so. The best type of feedback to give is one that is objective and sensitive. Be objective. Focus on the quality of their work not on their person unless it’s their person that is affecting the quality of their work. Be sensitive. Imagine how you would feel if you were on the receiving end. Putting yourself in the person’s shoes helps you become more empathetic and aware of their feelings.
Also, it is important to remember that feedback is a two-way asymmetrical communication. Feedback is given. It must also be received. Giving feedback is easy. Receiving feedback is not. No one likes to be told they are wrong or their behaviour is bad. But if you are serious about building good relationships, you need to be prepared to accept feedback. Why not look at it from a positive glass half full approach? Negative feedback is not a criticism but an expression of the person’s genuine interest in your improvement. It might make the bitter pill a little easier to swallow.
3. Accept and celebrate differences
Every human being is an individual. We all have different experiences that shape our perceptions and beliefs and that’s perfectly OKAY. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions or to start lecturing someone just because you do not approve of their life choices or their faith. Always put yourself in the person’s shoes and ask yourself: “How would I react if it was me on the receiving end?’ before you act on your impulses.
If you are a manager managing a multicultural workforce, it is important that diversity is celebrated not just at your level but across every level. Build a culture of tolerance and acceptance where every individual is treated fairly by all. Lead by example by not stereotyping other cultures or choosing one race over another.
One of the biggest barriers to great leadership building is communication. Effective communication involves both speaking and listening. If you don’t express how you feel, you cannot expect the other party to understand you. Likewise, if you don’t give the other person a chance to express how they feel, you won’t understand their position.
Building great relationships is about developing your communication skills. You want to be equally skilled in verbal, non-verbal and written communication. Ask quality questions. Avoid assumptions. Double-check meanings if you have to. Don’t complicate things and always, always ask yourself how you can be better at communication. In the words of my mentor, “Keep it simple! If you can make a 12-year old understand what you are trying to get across then you’re on the right track”.
Click on the link to learn more about ‘Relationship Building’ in my #1 Amazon bestselling book “Great Leadership Starts with You”
Iris Du is a leadership strategist and human behaviour expert who thrives on helping individuals, leaders and businesses achieve the success they deserve. Drawing on leadership, attraction and manifestation strategies, Iris works with organisations to help them leverage their natural talent to create highly engaged and high-performing leaders and teams.