My first and greatest mentor in life was (and is) my father Steve. He was a master of building business relationships and was well-respected and trusted by all who knew him throughout his long career. I remember well the advice he gave me 30+ years ago, soon after I graduated from UGA and was about to begin my career. He told me to think about three basic approaches when I was encountering new professionals as I began my first post-college job:
- Be helpful/Serve their needs
- Be sincerely curious
- Always add value
It took me a few years to fully grasp the importance of what he told me, but his sage advice is at the core of how I have approached business relationships over the course of my career. Here is what my father’s simple wisdom has come to mean to me today.
“Be helpful/Serve their needs”
My father’s first tip was to approach everyone with a servant’s heart. My parents were servant leaders throughout their lives, so I was fortunate to have this behavior modeled for me from a very young age. Make our efforts about sincerely helping others and serving their needs and we will find relationship building to be a worthwhile, fulfilling experience that will ultimately come back to us in positive and unexpected ways. When it is all about us and our needs, people see through that and our attempts at relationship building can become a miserable, laborious experience on many levels. Sincerely ask, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” OR Simply do something for them out of our generosity with no expectation of return. As my father used to say, “Always make it about them, not about you.”
“Be sincerely curious”
My father’s second tip stemmed from his understanding that I was going to meet a lot of senior business people and I might feel intimidated and nervous. He encouraged me to be genuinely curious about others as a helpful way to counter my lack of experience and my misguided view that I needed to have all the answers. As I reflect back over the last three decades, I have learned that people find us more interesting when we ask them questions. They appreciate the humility of us genuinely wishing to learn something new or just our desire to know them better. Stuck on knowing the perfect thing to say? Ask questions. Want to impress a client, new friend or colleague and learn important information about them? Ask questions. Being curious takes the pressure off and stimulates a more engaging and balanced conversation. We would all be well served to embrace humility, do less telling and more asking.
“Always add value”
His final tip was a little difficult for me to understand at 21 and it took me a few years to finally get it. He encouraged me to always approach every meeting with the mindset that I owned the responsibility for the other person to feel the meeting was well worth their time. He encouraged me to find ways to add value to every conversation or meeting. Today, this concept of adding value for the people I meet takes many forms: being a good listener, offering helpful advice, making a connection to someone in my network, giving the gift of a book or following up with a helpful article related to our conversation are some of the many examples of adding value I try to practice. This particular tip, when practiced well and in conjunction with the other ideas my father shared, almost always generates numerous follow up meetings that lead to strong relationships and even close friendships.
These simple approaches to engagement have proven to be invaluable in my desire to build authentic business relationships. These concepts work well with internal company relationships as well as those outside your organization. Don’t over complicate or add unnecessary layers to relationship building. Develop a simple and actionable approach that works for you.
Just be yourself, be helpful, be curious and always try to add value.
It really is that simple.