Building long-term relationships can seem complex. There is seemingly endless, often varying, research on the topic, and the only thing that seems clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
I’ve spent the past 17 years developing relationships with lenders, technology firms, government entities and coworkers across the country, while consistently educating myself on the latest research and trends. Perhaps more even more influential was spending my teen years in Israel, experiencing completely different circumstances and speaking a completely different language. Coming back to the US was far and away one of the toughest transitions I have experienced in my life. To this day, interpreting the meaning behind what someone is saying forces me to actively analyze and read between the lines in a way that I noticed most other Americans do not.
What I’ve found is that relationship-building and interpersonal communication requires a foundational framework. Often, your ability to create – and maintain – relationships has a direct correlation to your success. Questions like, “how do I form real relationships with my customers?” or “how do I connect with my boss?” are common. To answer these questions – and many others like it – I have identified five principles of creating relationships that last:
I have intentionally listed each principle in the form of a verb. I find that actively employing these factors is the only way to create long-lasting relationships. To strengthen existing long-term relationships, you can tactically add these principles as needed, though it is likely that most – if not all – of these principles are already in place.
For new relationships, you must be open-minded and think long term. After all, people you have not yet met may hold the keys to a new business opportunity or partnership. Look at meeting new people as an opportunity. First impressions are everything.
When we meet people, there are many exterior factors at play: Is this a business relationship or a personal relationship? What is their knowledge and expertise? Where are they from? What major events have they experienced in their lifetime? The list is virtually endless. No two people are alike. How they communicate, and how they perceive others will vary from person to person. Employing the techniques listed below will help ensure you put your best foot forward when meeting someone new.
Listen. This ancient, unfortunately underutilized, art is the ability to engage all of your senses at once and pick up on the complete environment. This means using your eyes to pick up on body language, your ears to hear what the person is saying and the tone in which they are saying it, and your mind to process all of this into a complete picture of what the person is – and isn’t – saying. Below are the steps I use to ensure I am in maximum listening mode.
First, clear your mind of distracting thoughts. You can do this by writing down your ideas and key points beforehand. What do you want to learn from this meeting? What key points do you want to convey? Be quiet and allow others to speak and finish their thoughts. Be open-minded and stay focused and receptive to the topics and shared thoughts. This is the most important part; people can tell when someone is focused on what they are saying or if they have already made up their mind without actually listening.
By actively listening, you will be able to better understand the person you are meeting with and the topic at hand. You will likely have more relevant questions, increasing the productivity of your interactions. The possibility of misunderstandings as the relationship unfolds will also be minimized.
Accept. This learned behavior, if employed correctly, will vastly improve both your professional and personal relationships. Accepting is the ability to recognize other’s values, beliefs, and behaviors without introducing negative judgments or prejudices.
In a society where media forces opinions on us daily, and everyone seems to post their opinions at will, acceptance can be weakened over time. Think of acceptance as a muscle to be developed. Focus on similarities. You may be meeting people from different countries or from other industries with different interests and needs. Be sensitive, and always remain willing to grow and learn from those with different perspectives from your own.
Respect. Accepting and respecting are closely tied. Be authentic in your discussions with others. Recognize people’s interests, needs, and – most importantly – feelings. Of course, not everyone who portrays feelings and needs is being honest with his or her intentions, but giving respect will help you begin to see through any falsities.
When speaking with someone in person, speak clearly and face them. Use your parent’s old lessons of being polite and kind. While you’re at it, go ahead and smile – it’s all about your attitude. Respect also means the ability to compromise as opposed to seeing only black and white. Working towards a solution will lead to relationships that last.
Ultimately, respect will promote dignity and the feeling that everyone adds value, leading to the belief that everyone has something to contribute.
Care. This is one of my favorites. Care shows a genuine interest in the wellbeing of those around you. If you truly care about the people you meet and work with, it no longer feels like an obligation to form relationships.
For some, this may be the most challenging element to implement. The more you work towards caring, the easier it will be over time. Show your emotion when it is appropriate; be excited for the people around you. Connect with your own emotions, and be true to them while not letting them drive you. Be generous, giving more than is expected when you can.
Caring promotes a deeper engagement with those around us. The by-product of care is loyalty and trust.
Trust. Be willing to demonstrate authenticity, honesty, reliability, and competency in the service you provide. Stand behind your visions and convictions. Be accomplished and dedicated to yourself and your work.
Build trust by following through with your promises. Use common language and develop an understanding of, and appreciation for, the cultures of those you are forming relationships with. Learn their values. This will ultimately promote long-term, successful relationships through the safe exchange of ideas and issues.
These principles will only work if you are open to forming new relationships. Over time, each of these will become a habit, requiring less active work on your part. Over time, if practiced, each will become an integral part of your work ethic. Give respect as a starting point, learn from acceptance, and listen to what you find. Your relationships will flourish.
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