If relationships are so important that even seemingly random meetings offer huge potential, why are so many of us—and, thus, so many organizations—so poor at cultivating intentional relationships with co-workers, clients, customers, and employees, much less discovering the hidden value of random relationships? Why do surveys tell us that so many people are unhappy with their work, or that they distrust their employers? Why are cynicism and skepticism the hallmarks of most organizational cultures, and not meaningful relationships? And how can leaders bring about change that takes this core value from a well-meaning platitude and puts it into action?
We have to face this challenge by taking a fresh look at the importance of relationship-building, taking steps to live out relational competence in all of our daily interactions, and, if we’re in a leadership position, offering innovative solutions that will energize the organization’s culture. First of all, look at where the organization needs to go. In other words, start with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey would suggest. To create an organization with a culture that’s steeped in relational competence—that is committed to deep, meaningful relationships—you need to start with each individual within the organization. It starts with you. And that change has to move the individual up the grid of the Five Floors of Relationships.
The Five Floors of Relationships
First Floor Relationships
Transactional in nature—people who do things for you because it is their job. Interactions are based on fulfilling a need.
Clerks, service employees, people who help not because of their relationship with you, but because of the nature of their position or job.
Second Floor Relationships
Sharing some personal information, facts. Conversations typically start with news, sports, and weather, and seldom move beyond the superficial or topical. At work, such relationships are based on positional authority.
Casual relationships and acquaintances, most boss-employee relationships; peers in unrelated departments, people you encounter at parties or functions whom you know casually, but with whom you aren’t truly friends.
Third Floor Relationships
Sharing opinions, learning to deal with conflict. For the most part, however, such relationships are relatively superficial, and kept at arm’s length.
Peers who interact regularly to reach common goals. You know some details about their personal lives and professional hopes and dreams, but are not asked or invited to give advice or feedback.
Fourth Floor Relationships
Sharing emotions and feelings; ability to work through conflict; willingness at times to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own. Conversations consistently move beyond news, sports, and weather. Mentor, good friends, close colleagues, people you care about in your job, industry, or community.
Penthouse (Fifth Floor) Relationships
Shared values, high level of openness, candor, and vulnerability; focusing on the other person’s needs.
Your closest and most intimate relationships.
Don’t Shoot the Moose
It’s important to remember who you are, however, and never try to fake an interest in things just to try to meet people you think might be valuable to your career.
If you have special interests or hobbies, you can find others who share it. And those interests, those passions, are great places to begin with when looking to reach out to others. Listen, as well, to what others tell you about their interests. If they sound appealing, don’t be shy about expressing an interest and looking for ways to do things together. Go online and do a little research about activities in your region. Take action.
Never try to fake an interest in things just to try to get close to someone. Build your network of relationships around shared passions. When your relationships are built on things you don’t truly enjoy, they likely won’t last for long.
Do Your Homework
Pull out your BlackBerry (or whatever PDA or other device you use to manage your contacts). Scroll through the list of people you know. What’s your immediate reaction to each name you encounter? Is that person a “giver” in your life, or a “taker”? How about you? Are you a giver in that person’s life, or a taker? On what floor would you place each relationship?
This simple exercise can be an eye-opener in terms of where you stand in your relationships. Print out your contact list; spend an hour going over it, marking each name with a G for “giver” or a T for “taker,” and a number to represent what floor your relationship is on. Mark it with an “up” arrow if you think the relationship has potential for growth or improvement. Later, you can simply scroll through your list while waiting on a flight, or during the time you have for personal reflection.
The point isn’t to rate or judge the people in your life, but to honestly assess your relationships with them. It is a window into your life.
Breaking the Ice … and Stirring It Up
Small talk is an important emotional glue in bringing people together, and creating common bonds. It’s like stretching before a workout. If you don’t stretch, you’ll pull a muscle. But if all you do is stretch for thirty minutes, you’ll never get much of a workout in. Eventually you have to get your heart rate higher
Before diving too quickly into potentially sensitive personal questions, first develop a rapport. Do some “relationship stretching.” Get to know the other person by asking simple, non-intrusive questions. Patiently explore deeper ground together.
Back of the Business Card
When you think of the people you are getting to know, take out a piece of paper and write down the back-of-the-business-card information. That’s what really helps you develop the relationship.
For instance, if you wanted to send me a gift for my birthday, think how much more meaningful that would be if you picked out something connected with the back of my business card—a historic map of Denver, or a baseball signed by one of the Yankees starters, for instance.
Even when you only have a few minutes, take the time to ask at least one probing question that you can put on the back of his business card. And by focusing on the person and not on his position, you gain the kinds of insights that will lead to a deeper, more meaningful relationship.
If you want to create and nurture relationships in your life, make an investment in relentless communication. You don’t have to send twenty handwritten notes a week, but why not send five? Or find other ways to uniquely express your thanks to the people you know—a flag on the Fourth of July, a yellow rose as a birthday gift. Make this a part of your life, something that you can make part of your relational DNA. When you do it, people will think of you and smile. And they’ll want to know you better. And that’s the heart of any relationship.
Whether you’re trying to create a new relationship or building an existing one, stay in touch with the other person. Find unique, consistent ways to stay connected to their lives. When they hear from you, especially in personal ways, they’ll know you care. And they’ll want to know you better.
Play Chess, Not Monopoly
When you approach relationship building focused only on your own benefit, with your own self-serving agenda, and with ulterior motives, everyone around you can see it for what it is. It’s like playing Monopoly; even if you buy all the properties and fill them with hotels, you will never build meaningful, long-term relationships. Your relationships will be as bankrupt as the opponents you defeated in the game.
Building value-driven relationships requires forward-thinking strategies that lead to creative ways of helping others, connecting them with the people who can meet their needs and be a positive influence in their lives. Review your relationships with an eye not just to how you can help each other, but to how all of the people you know can help one another. Be a facilitator—help to make that happen.
Making Business Personal
Networking is all about you. Netgiving is all about others. Networking is all about collecting contacts and using those contacts for personal gain. Netgiving is all about building relationships that help others around you succeed. Networking is about winning friends and influencing people for personal gain. Netgiving is about influencing friends to make a difference. Networking is about business in a world in which business isn’t personal. Netgiving is about intentionally making business personal.
Netgiving, to put it boldly, is about love. That’s the most important ingredient in developing relationships that make life and business something greater than just who we know.
Without love, you’ll never take a relationship to the Fourth Floor or the Fifth Floor. All of your relationships will feel empty. The business cards you collect at the typical conference or networking event will never become anything more than a mess of three-and-a-half-inch by two-inch pieces of paper.
This is the message the business world so often can’t seem to embrace. In individual relationships, we’re all for love. It’s a great idea for do-gooder nonprofits and starry-eyed newly-weds. But it has no place in business.
As Donald Trump puts it: “Business is about making money. It’s about the bottom line. The sooner you realize that it’s not personal, it’s business, the sooner you’ll make it to the top in the business world. I’m often surprised by people who think business is something else. They come in with lofty ideas and philanthropic purposes that have absolutely no place in a business meeting. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.”*
If all you’re interested in is making money, then Trump’s advice makes perfect sense.
But leaders like Trump miss a huge point when it comes to the human side of business. They see the “personal” as a roadblock to success, because the “personal” can cloud a leader’s decision-making process. The irony is that the leaders who let the “personal” cloud their business decisions usually are “loving” too little, not too much.
What many leaders have is a faulty understanding of what it means to “love” someone forward. When we really love someone, we’re committed to that person’s best interests. That is true of our employees, co-workers, vendors, clients—all of our contacts, even the ones we hardly know.