Estimated reading time: 6 mins
It’s not what you know, it isn’t even who you know, it’s WHO KNOWS YOU that counts today.
Why is that, quite often, we meet a successul/rich person who is, let’s just say, not as bright as ourselves? It could be luck? Were they born into a rich family? No – more often than not it is because the person under scrutiny is well connected with influential peers. Make sense?
Being well-connected is a massive strength.
If you’ve read my book ‘The 10 Habits of Highly Effective IT Professionals’ (hey – it’s a great read for non-IT people too, you can download it for free!) then you’ll know what I mean when I say ‘everybody is a resource’; strong and skillful personal networking is a clear success factor.
Our ability to build relationships continues to grow as one of those make or break skills in business. Web2.0 and social networking hasn’t taken that away (they have made it more important.)
So what’s involved in building a relationship? Let’s take a look at the stages:
- Getting in front of people
- Breaking the ice
- Developing a basis of relatedness
- Encouraging interest
- Building credibility and trust
- Following through
- Keeping it alive
Each of these stages requires different skills and approach, but the general rule is to be yourself and put the effort in. Relationships grow as you put more focused effort into them. It has to be reciprocal, right? The stumbler, for most people, is in getting in front of people to start the whole process off. If you’re not a naturally outgoing person, this is even more acute. I haven’t always been skilled at this myself, but what I have discovered is that asking contacts for introductions to their contacts is far better than standing in the arena in a conference hoping to meet someone interesting. So much so that I don’t go to many conferences to make contacts, but instead grow my network virally. How do you do it?
This requires me to have developed skills in ‘breaking the ice’ and ‘developing a basis of relatedness’. Finding a reason to form a relationship with someone requires a bit of risk taking, which I manage by asking lots of questions. When I meet new people, I try to discover something about them that I can engage with and have a bonefeid reason to continue talking. More often than not, this is about being a parent or something about sports (or the plain fact that we have a mutual relationship with the person who introduced us); it doesn’t matter what the topic is about as long as it is interesting and builds rapport. What do you discuss?
Eventually, I will hit upon something that has genuine interest that is common between us, such as a business idea, previous employer, and then focus on that.
From that point, I like to develop the interest further by sharing news, blog posts or ideas with the contact. Or I invite my new contact to lunch or for coffee for an informal chat again, having found a number of things to discuss about our shared interest. This is important, as it’s often the 2nd meeting where a new relationship lives or dies. This is when people make a judgment as to whether we are interesting, or not.
Once a relationship has survived the first few encounters, we tend to make our mind up whether someone is credible and trustworthy before we start to reveal the meaty facts about ourselves and our business, or offer referrals and business opportunities. At this point, it’s important to be reliable. It’s also important, once again, to take a few risks by revealing a bit more information about ourselves and our personalities. This stage isn’t easy because we are opening ourselves up for further judgment. However, if a relationship is to develop, we must do this. Deep relationships stem from strong affiliation on political, business or social agendas, so if they differ wildly then it’s much better to identify them now and not be afraid to walk away.
Following through is then the aspect of a relationship that grows a strong relationship. I am not great at this, naturally, so it’s something that I have to work on and keep at the front of my mind. If we have agreed to call, then we must call (when we said we would). If we promised tickets to a game, then we must provide them! The follow through is the demonstration that the relationship is important to us. You wouldn’t keep a relationship going where you were let down, constantly, would you?
Finally, I like to keep relationships alive by getting in touch to share a bit of news, have a laugh, discuss the game at the weekend, etc. Not all contact points need to be about business. In fact, if it’s just about business then I find that relationships go stale very quickly. I find it helps to always have a question or two about my contact, to show that I am interested in them. Asking questions, I find, is a good way of showing that I care.
What comes of this?
As a relationship develops, your contact will elaborate their internal view of brand YOU. At each stage, he or she will form a perception of your interests, capabilities, experience, and agendas. Some of these will fit with their own. When your contacts are going about their business, their opportunities will possibly align to you and may cause your contact to position you as someone who can help them. The more they know about you, the greater the clarity on how you can be positioned, and therefore the more opportunities you will be exposed to. And if you multiply this by the number of people who know you, then the greater the number of opportunities will come your way.
It’s not what you know. It’s not who you know. It’s who KNOWS you (and not who is just acquainted with you!)
How to Master Relationship Building
As I suggest above, I am no expert in this field. There are aspects of my personality that make some of the stages of relationship building more difficult for me. This is why I found help. What I discovered is this excellent book: Masters of Networking: Building Relationships for Your Pocketbook and Soul by Ivan R Misner and Don Morgan. Why I think this book is great is because, despite what I have shared above, it told me that there are many things about building relationships that are important, but not obvious. I discovered that our appearance is, even in today’s society, the most important factor that sparks a relationship, or not. It also discusses the impact of confidence, which is often the biggest disabler for most people. The greatest lesson in this book is that networking is a continuous journey that never ends!