The best approach to building relationships

I used to think of networking as a set of transactions or, worse, manipulations.

As a result, I viewed relationships too narrowly. At work, my relationships were defined by the hierarchy and my position in it. At home, they were just about socializing – separate and distinct from work or trying to achieve anything.

This narrow view limited what I could do and with whom I could do it. Until I was taught a better way.

5 mindsets of networking

I was in the middle of a career change when I enrolled in a year-long course called the “Relationship Masters Academy” with Keith Ferrazzi (now an online offering).

Ferrazzi, author of “Never Eat Alone” and “Who’s Got Your Back?”, demonstrated how you could be generous, vulnerable, and authentic while still being purposeful.

Now, in a course called “Building a purposeful social network” we encourage internal staff to adopt these 5 mindsets as they develop relationships:

Generosity: thinking first of what you have to offer instead of what you need

Empathy: thinking of how the other person will think and react to what you say or do

Authenticity: being your true self

Intimacy: getting beyond small talk to things that matter

Vulnerability: offering up your own imperfections and need for help

Before the Ferrazzi course, I’d have never associated any of these words with networking. But the more I researched and applied these ideas, the more obvious it became that these mindsets enabled a more fulfilling, more effective approach to relationships.

Leading with generosity and empathy

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and authentic makes you more approachable. And getting beyond small talk to more intimate, personal topics leads to stronger connections more quickly.

But, as Ferrazzi said, “The currency of real networking is…generosity.” Generosity and empathy – thinking about the other person’s needs, feelings, and perceptions before your own – are the most fundamental mindsets.

Dale Carnegie, in “How to win friends and influence people”, wrote at length about empathy. Early in the book, he quotes Henry Ford:

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

And then, because it’s so important, he repeats the quote “so the reader won’t miss it.”

What do you have to offer?

You don’t have to have an extraordinary talent or something of commercial value to lead with generosity and empathy. Much of what Ferrazzi and Carnegie talk about are things everyone can do, gifts everyone can give.

Here are some of Carnegie’s principles (which Ferrazzi also cited):

“Give honest and sincere appreciation.”

“Become genuinely interested in other people.”

“Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.”

“Be a good listener. Encourage other people to talk about themselves.”

“Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.”

These basic truths about relationships are as applicable now as they were in 1936 when Carnegie wrote them. Even more so.

Give, give, give

The many social platforms and communications channels make it easier than ever to apply the 5 mindsets. But it’s so easy and quick to send  a message that not enough thought typically goes into it. And people waste the many opportunities.

  • When you need something, do you start with “I’d like to…” or do you start with what’s in it for the reader?
  • When you ask someone to connect do you use the generic request or do you take the extra minute to craft a personal note?
  • When you find something you like, do you share it with specific individuals for whom you think it would be interesting or useful? Do you personalize the note? Do you give the creator public credit?
  • When you need help do you start with “I need your help” or do you start with why you thought so highly of the person that their help was particularly valuable?

Every email, every tweet, every LinkedIn request, every meeting is an opportunity to lead with generosity and empathy. It’s just that most people don’t think of it that way.

You’ll distinguish yourself when you do.

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement, Working out loud and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The best approach to building relationships

  1. kristenlritter says:

    Great blog, John! I love Keith Ferrazzi as well and think Never Eat Alone is a book every professional should read. This topic is a great one which you covered well, and I’ll pass your blog along.

  2. One of the key discoveries so far of Complexity Theory is that co-operative processes in general seem far more likely to survive than isolated, rampantly selfish entities, wherein survival is a group or team effort (survival of the nicest?).

    This is truly sound advice and I’m curious if the ethos you describe comes from the top or the bottom of the organisation. The ethos we’re using for adoption in other organisations taps into people’s primal desire to belong in groups (with its power to provide ‘deep mutual support’) and is best described by this quote:

    “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Leon. To your question about where the ethos comes from in the organization, I’d say there is strong support for role-based communities of practice across senior management. They’ve seem those communities produce commercial benefits while making jobs easier/better.

      As for “everybody in the firm can lead with generosity and build purposeful networks”, that’s largely my own experiment but one I’m confident will also produce value and ultimately gain broad support.

      • Peter Drucker (RIP) said that “community building talent is the most precious reward in the modern world”. I’m working on persuading senior management to recognise and reward community leaders. You’ll find that “everybody in the firm can lead with generosity and build purposeful networks” is actually good for business, shareholders and (gasp!) society as a whole.

  3. Rick Ladd says:

    Thanks, John. An excellent reminder of how important empathy is to relationships and how easy it is to show respect to the people you interact with. My thanks to @mor_trisha (Trisha Liu) for pointing your blog post out to me.

  4. Julian Pilapil says:

    Great blog John! One thing I also learned from Carnegie, is the need of people to feel “important.” That is why I guess, when we are generous and show our empathy to people we make them feel that they are important to us…

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