It isn't easy, yet it is so important
Have you ever had to work with someone whom you really didn’t like? Have you ever found yourself saying “I can’t believe he still doesn’t get it; what’s the matter with him?”
Like river dancing, relationships are complex. Naturally we tend to like people who are like us. They help us to confirm that we are making the right choices and make us feel better about ourselves and the decisions we need to make every day. It’s easy to become quickly annoyed by people whose values and beliefs are different to yours.
I’d be very surprised if you connected instantly with everyone you met. If you do, you should become a TV talk show host. Most of us work in roles where we need to develop stronger relationships with a broad range of people. The chances are high that these people will come from very different backgrounds to you. Some of them you will click with easily. Most of them it will take some work.
Here are 3 ideas that could help you to build stronger relationships:
1. Focus on the other person and their needs
When building a relationship never begin by focusing on yourself and your needs. Like dating, this technique rarely works in the long term. Ask any seasoned dater how to have more success on dates and they’ll always tell you to smile, nod your head, listen more and then ask your date another question.
You must make every effort to be genuinely interested in the people that you are doing business with. Authenticity and sincerity are very important. Work on remembering lots of little things about them. Little things can become big things quickly. Strong relationships tend to be built when there is common ground. Sometimes you will have to work quite hard to find this common ground. It might come out over time that you have similar interests in music, coffee, food, movies, travel, fashion, sport or family. I’ve often found that the more that I have in common with someone the easier it is to be interested in them and the easier it is then to develop a relationship with them. With a little bit of effort, most of the time you will find some common ground. Start with this and then build on it.
2. Provide regular feedback
Successful relationships rely on feedback. It takes courage to make suggestions and offer up ideas. Sometimes it’s easier to do nothing. Doing nothing for a relationship will rarely strengthen it. Like learning how to choose the right wine to accompany your meal, providing appropriate feedback is a skill that can be developed over time. I have found that I have more success with relationships when I provide 5 times more positive feedback for every one piece of constructive feedback I give. (Please note this method might not apply with your husband or wife). Very few people respond favourably to receiving criticism. I’m not suggesting that you ignore constructive feedback. Just be very selective with how and when you provide it. You will strengthen a relationship faster by catching people doing things right as opposed to doing things wrong.
Be brave and courageous. Suggest from time to time ideas that might enhance your relationship? Could you conduct regular review meetings? Ask them about co-hosting an event with you. How about asking them for their advice on something? When you ask someone for their advice you are showing them respect and adding another layer to your relationship. Listen closely to what they say. Thank them for it.
3. Stay in touch
You must find creative ways to stay in touch with the people that are important to you. If they only hear from you when you want something they will lose interest in you very quickly. Social media might assist you to some extent, although I very much doubt it will be the complete answer. It could be one of a number of options for you. Think about what the other person would value. Look for different ways to provide that. Is it a link to an interesting article, an invitation to an event, a coffee or an introduction to a third party? It doesn’t need to be complex. The key is just stay in touch with them, regularly.
Don’t overdo it. There’s a fine line between staying in touch and becoming a stalker. I receive 5 emails most weeks from Qantas offering me all sorts of deals. Perhaps if they emailed me less often or called me from time to time our relationship might improve.
Focus on what you can control. To strengthen relationships you have to do the work. Don’t just expect the relationship to improve over time. Don’t expect that everyone will eventually come around to your way of thinking; because of course you must be right. Focus on the other person and their needs, provide regular (mainly positive) feedback and be creative with how you stay in touch with them.