EPM Principles

Building Relationships

How do you build relationships in business? 

  • Empathy
  • In-person one on one engagement
  • Camaraderie outside of work
  • Displays of trustworthiness
  • Shared struggles

Empathy.  Simple enough but often overlooked and/or too rarely practiced.  Try to understand the other.  What are they struggling with, how can you help, what pain points or frustrations can you alleviate, what do they need to get their job done?  Ask yourself these questions, and try to think of the other first when building a relationship.  It is not about what YOU want, its about how you can help THEM.  Do that, and what you want will come without effort. 

In-person engagement.  This one is fairly obvious I think.  It is 10x easier to build a relationship with someone in person vs. over the phone / email / chat, etc.  We don’t have relationships with text on a screen or an unfamiliar voice.  We have relationships with people.  So get out of your office and go meet them.  This could be as simple as walking to someone else’s desk to discuss an issue or ask a question, or as involved as flying halfway around the world to visit a vendor or customer in person.  That personal interaction is so tremendously valuable, and can accomplish in hours what would take weeks or months to do via remote interaction.  Yes, you can work remotely, but you won’t build many (strong) relationships if all you do is email and call. 

Camaraderie.  Again, this should be obvious, but its worth mentioning especially as work life balances continue to tip in favor of work and time outside the office can easily be consumed with family and other personal responsibilities.  If you really want to get to know someone and foster a friendship, try to do something outside of the office.  This can be as simple as grabbing a beer after work, or taking a vendor out to dinner during a business trip.  The point is to engage outside of the field of play.  Go to a neutral, non-business venue, and spend some time getting to know the person – their family, their hobbies, their story.  Do this, and your future in-office interactions will be so much richer.

Demonstrations of Trustworthiness.  Are you trusted?  In general, and in absence of any glaring untrustworthy indicators (think sleazy used car salesman), then probably yes.  The question is not one of general trust, the question is one of specific trust to do your job, to do a difficult task, to find and fix the root cause of a problem.  This is the trust you must earn from your team.  Saying that Tim is responsible for X is irrelevant if Tim does not know how to do X or if Tim has demonstrated an inability to perform X in the past.  In building relational trust, you must demonstrate through action and persistence the ability to meet the expectations of the other, and to fulfill on schedule and to the requirements, any task for which you are assigned.  If you are given an action in a meeting, follow through.  If you are responsible for completing a critical part of the design, deliver that on schedule.  If you are responsible for managing the budget, keep track of expenses and highlight risks when you see them.  Do your job, help others, and gain their trust through action.  

Shared Struggles.  The type of relationships which are formed through shared struggles are unlike any other.  When you have fought side by side with others, literally or figuratively, the two of you or the group will share a sense of purpose and a shared experience that will last for years to come.  This is as true in business as it is in sports or combat.  When the heat is on, everything is going wrong and you absolutely must deliver, fighting through insurmountable obstacles over weeks or months to meet your goal – this will forge steadfast relationships.  Can you foster this for your time?  Can you architect a Shared Struggle scenario to build deeper relationships with key members of your organization?  I believe it is possible, but with very careful consideration to the circumstances and goals.  The reason being, the psychological principal at play is an ‘Us against Them’ mentality within the group.  If the ‘Them’ in question is a boss, team leader, or someone else within the organization, it won’t be beneficial to unite the group against them.  However, if you can focus your team on an external threat or a supremely challenging technical problem with a real sense of urgency and a non-negotiable deadline, the group should align to battle their adversaries and in so doing become stronger in the process.  

The flip side to building a relationship – the power of influence.  You can certainly, and perhaps more easily than you realize, influence someone to do what you want.  For a master class on influence and the power of persuasion and pre-suasion, read the seminal books by Robert Cialdini.  However if you have a relationship with someone, you won’t need to influence them to assist in your goals.  That is the value of a relationship.  It is a well you can reliably tap, with moderation, to help you in times of need.  

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