We all recognize the best practice of building professional relationships during our careers. It is a competency listed on every resume and a skill identified on everyone's LinkedIn profile. At the onset of a client engagement, I ask each client to identify their strengths. Inevitably “relationship building” is listed in the top 10. My follow-up question is "Of all your professional relationships, how many are productive?"
Productive relationship building involves effective communication, efficient collaboration, respect for each other's opinions, and working towards achieving common goals. Productive relationships are characterized by mutual trust, a willingness to learn from each other, support, sharing of ideas and knowledge, and constructive feedback. On a scale of 1 to 10, how many of your relationships check all these boxes?
Building and maintaining productive relationships requires effort and attention. You need to be genuine and authentic, show interest in others, communicate effectively, and be appreciative, reliable, and dependable. But above all, staying connected and continuously offering value are the investments that pay the highest dividends.
We are all interconnected.
Let’s start with the concept that we are all interconnected as part of a larger social network and that our well-being, be it personal or professional, is influenced by the well-being of others. If we add "be of value to others" to the equation, it starts to become clear how the aim of adding value in professional situations comes full circle over time. As my mom used to remind me, “A rising tide raises all boats.” If I had to select one area of focus to drive the greatest results for my coaching clients, it would be productive relationship building.
Aim to add value.
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” - Albert Einstein.
As someone who was relentlessly pursuing success for most of my life, discovering the shadow side of success was eye-opening. I never bothered to consider the sacrifices made in relationships in order to keep pace on the hamster wheel of success. My continual desire to impress resulted in a cycle of seeking out and conquering the next challenge - but the “success high’ was always short-lived, and I would quickly move on to the next shiny project that captured my attention. I was lost in frantic doing with my eye on the prize and not on the bigger picture.
Many professionals are caught up in the routines of daily work that deprive their lives of significance. I was no exception. When I finally paused long enough to determine if what I was doing professionally was how I wanted to contribute to the world, I realized we are not here only to see what we can get from life, but we are here to add to life, and adding to life was the space I wanted to operate in. Being a person of value requires you to transcend your ego and sense of self-importance and rewire your thinking and approach to focus on “being the change that you wish to see in the world.”
There are many avenues for becoming a person of value.
When I work with a client on learning how to network, I preach that the focus for great networking should not be asking “What can you do for me”, but instead focus on filling their cup first, because it will always come back around. This philosophy is applicable to all business engagements, not just networking.
Add value by educating and inspiring a colleague, preparing them for success in their personal lives. You can have it come full circle when you see the person you are mentoring succeed, achieve their goals, and even become a mentor themselves one day.
You can add value to the people you network with by sharing knowledge, expertise, resources, or information. If you fill their cup first, (for instance recommending a book or sending them a link for an article that is relevant to a challenge they are facing, or an interest they shared), you build trust and establish yourself as a valuable connection. This can lead to stronger relationships, more referrals, and new opportunities in the future.
Be a Connector
Be an active listener in all your professional interactions. Be the last to speak and seek to understand versus seeking to highlight your expertise. Then give some thought as to who a good connection for that person would be. It only requires a simple email with the introduction and they can take it from there. You can connect colleagues with similar interests and roles, complementary roles, or individuals that could offer guidance, support, or solutions to challenges.
You will find that your commitment to being a connector will create a chain reaction and very often they will reciprocate by introducing you to new contacts or providing you with valuable information or resources.
Pay It Forward As An Educator or Turn Around and Help the Person Behind You.
Provide valuable and relevant information. Assist others in their search for knowledge and help them achieve their goals. Stop trying to "sell" yourself, your work, expertise, and knowledge in every interaction. Instead, focus on educating them in some way.
Be an unrelenting advocate of shortening other people’s learning curves. Wouldn’t you love to live in a professional world where this was the norm?
Be a Creator
Make the complicated easier, and create tools or content that accelerate productivity.
Write a book related to all the knowledge you possess as a subject matter expert.
Create a course that aligns with your zone of genius.
Success grows incrementally for people who focus on providing value for others. When you become a person of value, people are more likely to talk about you, share your services, tweet about you, blog about you, help you with your needs, and share unique stories about how you benefited them professionally.
Take a moment to move the needle from “how far and how fast can I go”, to “how can I add value to those in my professional circle and beyond.”
"If we can fall in love with serving people, creating value, solving problems, building valuable connections, and doing work that matters, it makes it far more likely we're going to do important work." -Seth Godin