Building Relationships That Elevate a Professional Career
Bill Gates once said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
A professional career is a marathon, not a sprint. Arguably the most important component of a successful professional career is quality relationships. Relationships are required for developing a team, implementing new ideas, overcoming challenges and change, and building any type of practice or business. Any success we have as professionals will involve other people, whether you are a member of a team working on internal processes, leading a team that is designing and delivering a client solution, or you are working with a referral source and hoping they will help you identify new work. Your success is always dependent on others, thus choosing the people you devote time and energy to, become some of the most important decisions you can ever make during your career.
Making the right relationship choices is first, however do not think for a minute that any relationship is static and will always be there for you. Time, effort, and depth are required to build relationships that will stand the test of time and will grow as you grow. Just as a business is either growing or shrinking, relationships (professional and personal for that matter) will go through a similar evolution and need continual nurturing.
Knowing that relationships are so important, it seems logical that we would all spend more time cultivating them, internally and externally, so we can enjoy greater success. Yet often I talk with professionals who say they are simply too busy to spend time on the relationship side of their practice. Putting out fires and dealing with short-term urgent situations often gets people off track and before long some of the most valuable relationships get tested and ultimately dissolve.
As the Knapp Model (part of the Five Star Client Service program) reveals, there are multiple stages in all relationships. At times you are integrating and bonding with people and then there are other relationships that evolve, plateau, begin to decline and even terminate unless care is taken to continually add value to the relationship.
Knapp’s Relational Model
The more time you devote to your relationships, the less chance there is for decline. The Five Star Client Service model for service delivery and culture building provides a road map for organizations that want to establish and maintain a high quality, consistent culture and brand by focusing on relationship building inside and outside the firm.
In his book 7 Levels of Intimacy, Matthew Kelly explains that the key to developing substantial relationships is being intentional in the ways you connect and communicate with people. The types of information that is shared between people determines the depth and strength of relationship that is in place.
For example, a low form of communication is cliché conversation such as when you talk about the weather. It’s a good conversation starter though limited in terms of building a relationship.
A more effective level of communication takes place when it engages a person by asking questions to gather facts. An example of this can happen at a network function when you have met one of your peers and ask what type of practice they have.
Moving beyond simply gathering facts, there is information sharing, which happens when you and the person you just met, begin to talk more frequently and exchange details about each other’s practice and perhaps personal life.
Deeper still is communication that involves sharing opinions and providing insights into why you believe what you believe. As a trusted advisor this is a key path to take in developing a strong relationship with a client. This stage of a relationship develops over time when a level of trust has been established.
You go even deeper when you engage people in moments of goal discovery. Think about times when a client reveals what they want from their business in terms of succession and they share some of the long-term desires for their business or even the trouble they are having with their strategy or possibly even employees.
The farther you go in a relationship; the more vulnerable people are willing to be. True vulnerability is happening when a person shares not only successes and failures they have experienced but they talk about the intimate details of things that have happened and share in a way that they would unlikely talk with others. At this stage they trust that you are going to listen for understanding, you are not going to judge them, and you will respond with honesty and what is in the person’s (and their businesses) best interest.
An example of the pinnacle of a professional relationship are the clients who never make a move in their business without talking to you. They share everything with you; the good, bad and ugly sides of their business. These are more than business to business relationships. They are long-term, trusting ones where openness and confidence have developed, and little is out of bounds in terms of what each of you is willing to say to each other.
The deeper you go with a person, the more rewarding the relationship becomes for both of you. It takes time and effort to get to know someone, understand their story, display an interest in their situation, and build a level of trust so they are truly open and transparent with you. When this happens though, and you intentionally stay connected over time, opportunities to help them and become a trusted advisor grow. Ultimately that is why you are in the business of doing what you do…. that is your reward.
Consider the interactions you have with clients, internal team members or other professional connections. Do many of the conversations stay at the cliché or fact-finding level or are you connecting and sharing with people in more meaningful ways? Doing so can help build strength and trust in the relationships with your team and your network of contacts.
Relationships can be messy, and where there are people, there is bound to be conflict. However, it is often in the moments of exploration, and times of conflict, that a relationship can grow to be more rewarding.
The amount of time you devote to various relationships speaks volumes about the importance you place on them. In this respect it is a form of currency, like depositing money into an emotional bank account. You must give of yourself (deposit funds into the relationship) to receive what you need from your most valuable contacts. When this is done, over time, and with consistency, you begin to see the fruits of the labor. You will have established Big Relationships that generate Big Ideas and drive you and your team toward Bigger Results.