If you asked twenty people to share their keys to success, you’d likely get twenty-five different responses. Some would say hard work. Others would say creativity. Each answer would contain valuable insight, but they wouldn’t paint the full picture.
If you pushed each of these people further, however, and asked them to tell you the story of how they became successful, I’d be willing to bet that the real unifying theme in each would be this: Their success hinged on their commitment to investing deeply in relationships. Whether those relationships were with clients, co-workers, industry leaders or mentors, every successful person I’ve ever known or studied has spent time and effort connecting in a real way with those around them.
On its face, focusing on relationships seems like the most straightforward advice ever given. In practice, however, building real relationships with those around us can feel challenging. So challenging, in fact, that many of us never get around to it.
So, why is it that connecting to another human being, especially in the context of business, can seem so daunting?
Connecting is a bit outside our comfort zone.
Building relationships can, at least for some of us, feel like risky business. It requires putting yourself out there in ways that are often challenging and uncomfortable. It can even call up painful memories of being rejected or left out at other times in our lives.
Some of us wonder whether having close relationships at work is even “professional”. We carry the belief that at work, we are supposed to be focused on work. Exclusively. All the time. If this is you, I can promise you are missing opportunities to connect with those around you who may prove instrumental in your future success.
Relationships take time we think we don’t have.
Connecting with people takes time, which feels like it is in short supply. Most of us have a full plate of “more important” things to do. Things with deadlines. Things that make noises or send us pop up notifications when we ignore them. In this frenzy, it’s easy to feel too busy to really connect.
Even if we manage to convince ourselves that we have time to reach out to others, we may still shy away because we don’t want to bother the other person, who is surely too busy to have time for us.
We don’t focus on connecting in a sustained way.
Perhaps the biggest enemy of relationship building, however, is a simple lack of focus. We don’t make connecting with people a priority, and so it gets done haphazardly, if at all. Let’s be honest, there are plenty of things to occupy your mind and if building relationships isn’t on your radar, it’s likely to get forgotten in the hustle of the daily grind.
Despite all these challenges, however, connecting with people is still a key differentiator in people’s level of success. Simply put, it’s worth the time and energy to make it a priority.
If I’ve convinced you and you’re ready to make relationships a cornerstone of your professional life, that’s great. But, you still may be wondering where to start. Who, exactly, are you supposed to build relationships with?
Start by looking around you. Notice those people you admire for one reason or another. Maybe they have a skill you’d like to learn. Or perhaps their career journey is one you’d like to hear more about. Whatever the specifics, if you are drawn to someone for a particular reason, it’s a great starting point.
Another fantastic start is to pay attention to the people who bring joy or energy into your work day. The co-worker who can rally everyone around a new project. The colleague who seems to meet each new challenge with grace and determination. Surrounding yourself with these positive influences can not only improve your mood, it may just begin to shift your own perspective in unanticipated ways.
Finally, tune into the people who approach things differently than you do. Perhaps they come from another department and have a different professional background. Perhaps their personality is different in some key way than yours. Regardless of the exact nature of the difference, engaging with those outside our comfort zone can be extremely valuable. Such relationships help alleviate our own blind spots and give us insight into new ways of thinking and resolving issues.
Once you’ve identified a few people you might want to connect with, dive in. Pick one relationship to foster and make it a priority. This doesn’t mean making some grand announcement like, “Hey, I want to be your business friend.” It does mean, however, finding small ways to connect regularly. Drop by and asking how a project is going. Ask for thoughts on an issue you’re struggling to solve. Pay attention as opportunities for connection present themselves.
After the first attempt, don’t forget to follow up. Building a relationship isn’t a rifle shot – it takes ongoing effort. Continue to look for ways to foster the relationship. Reach out. Talk. Ask questions. Offer to help. And remember, we are all people first.