Anyone in a business consulting role knows that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Becoming a trusted advisor to your customers is no easy task. Your client’s goals and current approach to achieving them may not align with your recommendations. Or your client may lack the willingness to try a new path, especially if he or she has an entrenched way of doing business.
In these scenarios, your progress may be impeded if there is not a strong bond of trust in your business relationships. You remember that gut feeling you get when you know you are being lied to or you’re not being taken seriously by a boss or colleague? Your clients do, too.
Whether your chosen field is management consulting, marketing, investment counseling or law, your success depends on the quality of the relationships that you have with customers, co-workers and peers. Not on how many connections you have on LinkedIn or friends on Facebook.
The truth is, building relationships takes nurturing and time.
I have many personal and professional relationships I truly cherish, but one has withstood the test of time and stands out for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is because I became friends with Melinda while we were both work colleagues and new mothers at exciting phases in our careers. Both of us were in new management roles at leading Chicago communications firms and facing similar challenges, juggling professional responsibilities and family obligations, seeking meaningful work beyond the bimonthly paycheck.
Although our career choices took us on separate paths, mine to Milwaukee, Wis., while Melinda stayed in Chicago, we have stayed in touch and kept up as our girls have grown (mine just got her driver’s license, Melinda’s is studying opera). I always value her advice and sound thinking when contemplating a decision, personal or professional, that may take me in a new direction.
Building meaningful and lasting relationships like the one I share with Melinda is no small feat, and well worth the effort. Here are four ways to make your relationships count:
1) Be Trustworthy: This means saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Keeping your promises is just part of it, though. Being truthful, displaying integrity in difficult business situations, and showing you are someone who can be counted on in good times and bad are all character-building traits that foster trust, as discussed in this WikiHow article.
2) Be Helpful: Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference. Chances are you share certain goals and values with every individual you come in contact with. Find out what you have in common. Learn what is important to them. You may have shared a similar experience or problem you worked your way out of, an insight they can benefit from. Give as good as you get.
3) Be Transparent. This means owning up to mistakes when things go wrong. Sharing both the good and the bad news, even when it may come with a business cost. Letting your audience know the steps you are taking to correct mistakes so that they don’t happen again. As Marjorie Adams with the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) says in this Forbes post, “Customers and clients are smart. They know when you’re being up front or when they are told a mistruth. If honesty is the best policy, they’ll appreciate and admire you more when you admit to a mistake, rather than playing games or even worse, avoiding the topic altogether.”
4) Listen: When presented with a business problem, our natural tendency is to immediately jump in with recommended solutions. But first asking respectful questions to uncover more information can lead to more meaningful solutions. Listening with intent fosters an open dialogue that leads to fresh ideas, says Bernard Ferrari, author of the book, Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All.
In this CNBC post Ferrari shares, “Good listeners try to set aside their biases, beliefs and assumptions when engaging others. They don’t make stealth speeches disguised as questions or answers. They don’t frame conversations or statements with clever preambles that back the other person into a corner. They don’t spout out glib, easy answers before hearing all the relevant facts and opinions. Rather, they forage for any information or ideas that might give them a new slant on a problem. They keep an open mind.”
While there are many new skills demanded in today’s rapidly changing workplace, sometimes the most important qualities are those that rely on good, old-fashioned, interpersonal interaction.
What have you found to be the most effective ways to establish and sustain your most successful relationships? Feel fee to leave me a message in the comments section or share this with others if you think they may benefit.
The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my current or former employers, my friends and colleagues, nor anyone I have met or may meet in the future.