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Focus on relationships

Updated: Feb 13


It's February and commercial adverts are already selling you products that are guaranteed to galvanize your relationships.  Whether these are personal or work relationships, most of us agree about the importance of networks – ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ is an often chanted mantra.  You won’t get very far if you don’t develop good relationships with your clients or work colleagues.  But what do you do if like me, you are somewhat of an introvert and find that cold conversations or attending work events where you are expected to make small talk, don’t come easily?


Many years ago when I first started out as founder of my coaching business, I determined to follow ‘good advice’ and sign up for as many networking events as I possibly could.  I remember going along for my first event, suppressing the desire to turn back at the entrance to the hotel where the meeting was, and walking in with a look that said – “I’ve got this!” I managed to speak to a few friendly people, exchanged business cards and exited early with a sense of accomplishment.  I didn’t get any business from that first meeting, I wasn’t expecting to, but what I did leave with, was satisfaction that I’d done what I set out to do and confirmation that I wasn’t great at contrived conversations.


In comparison to networking meetings , I didn’t have any issues when I found myself at a social gathering, talking to someone I was drawn to because they seemed to be on their own with no one to talk to.  Perhaps it was the compassion their ‘aloneness’ aroused in me that made me ditch my ‘introvertedness’ briefly, in order to help someone else feel more at ease.   And therein lies the secret to developing relationships – rather than focussing on what we hope to get from people, we reach out to others, in an attempt to give of ourselves, help them with something, or just show our curiosity in finding out who they are and what is important to them.  A storyteller at heart, I am incurably curious about people. Not a nosy-kind of curiosity that wants to know for the sake of knowing, but a genuine desire to find out people’s stories, their dreams, goals and inevitably their pain or disappointment.  Perhaps it comes from a background of medicine, where as a doctor I was trained to be curious about people’s symptoms so that I could diagnose their illness and therefore be in a better position to suggest an appropriate cure. 


As a Leadership coach I am no less curious about the people I meet, and the understanding that relationship building is meant to be a positive experience, not a forced or transactional venture, is now the basis for my attending events aimed at forging new relationships.  I know you could argue it’s merely semantics, but I would rather build meaningful relationship than network.


Relationships can be likened to wine; they mature and get better with age.  Again like wine, this improvement can only happen if the right ingredients were put in during the wine making process in the first place.  Bad wine does not get better with age, no matter how long you leave it for.  Good relationships take time and effort to build.

You won’t always feel like you have the time and you won’t always be inclined to make the effort.  You won’t always get out as much as you put in and sometimes, you’ll even experience the pain of betrayal.  But your hard work will pay off in the end, somehow.  The clients that will come back again and again are the ones you have taken the time to build a good relationship with and to serve well and.  Five minutes taken to send a thank you email could be the catalyst for several subsequent years of business.  The team member that will give their best will be the one you took time to include.


The ingredients required to build good relationships are well known and include trust, honesty, appreciation, understanding, acceptance and a willingness to occasionally overlook faults when necessary.   One ingredient we often overlook is good communication.  In my own personal experience and from working with people who have had relationship difficulties, sticky situations arise many times because people have either not communicated at all or have communicated poorly.  Good communication is not just about exchanging words or ideas or making your voice heard.  It is more about being understood and understanding others; accepting and appreciating differences and taking these differences into account in the way we relate to each other.  It’s not surprising therefore that misunderstanding is a very common cause of relationship breakdown.


Taking the time to really hear what others are communicating can be very helpful in understanding why they act or react in the way that they do.  We learn how to communicate in the way that best suits the other person and try to bring out the best in each other rather than expecting them to think and act like us.  We learn to look beyond a person’s verbal communication to what they really mean and the heart behind the words. 


Decide this February that you will take a fresh look at your relationships.  Do it your way, rather than how you’ve been told you ought to do it.  And yes the introverts among us can have great relationships every bit as much as the extroverts.  Find ways of improving your communication so that your relationships can flourish.  Develop a healthy curiosity about the people you live and work with, and look for ways to serve your clients, business associates and team members, rather than just thinking of what you can gain from them.  Yes, you may need to spend more time and effort than you are used to, but your hard work will pay off in the end.


"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Maya Angelou

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