Friday, September 14, 2012
Building Positive Business Relationships: Be Open and Ask Questions
It's easy to get caught up in the politics of day to day business. We see people go about things the wrong way, be pushy, selfish and unfair yet often times it seems these people get rewarded for their bad behavior because they end up getting what they want. Right now. Some people do use the selfish, bulldozer approach to "success." But if you're looking at a long-term career, don't be so easily persuaded. I was recently talking to a friend who is leaving her job. "I don't know how my boss keeps that position but I'm glad I'm getting out before things get worse and I'm stuck with him by myself." As a human being I would hope no one would ever feel that way about me, but in this situation her immediate boss left, expanding her responsibilities and would ultimately mean working with a man notorious for being awful and intolerable. I could have a whole discussion on what psychological instabilities cause some people to become so terrible that something like this is a common statement about them, but I like to keep things relatively brief.
It's important that we see negative behavior and become determined not to do it. It's easy to stoop to someone else's level, get mad and want revenge or to say "Well, if (s)he can do it, so can I!" Yes you can but do you really want to cause someone else the same frustration you have? Do you want to be that person to someone else? Hopefully you answered no, and if so continue reading. If you said yes, smack yourself across the face and get a grip, man.
The best way to build relationships is to be genuine. You need to care and to listen and to relate. You don't need to remember everything every person says to you but you should try to remember the basics. One thing I've been trying to do is ask someone about the last thing we spoke about last time I saw them. I.e. "How was your son's baseball game?" I know it's basic stuff, but when I'm busy and running around I don't always remember to take a minute and ask someone about their personal life. That's why it's a bit of a challenge. Show people that they are important to you and it goes a long way.
It is the same for customers and co-workers alike. I notice this sometimes when emailing people. Everyone is very formal and professional in the beginning, so sometimes I will try to throw in a more fun or casual sentence here or there, just to see how they will respond. Once you relax the situation, most people will too and then personality emerges. If I'm on the phone and neither of us seem terribly busy, sometimes I just ask people about their company and what they do because I'm curious. People like to talk about their company, their work and inevitably themselves and so not only do I learn about a field or company, but that person on the other end knows I am interested in who they are and what they do. They are valuable to me and not just because I say "You're a valuable customer!" I show them.
My pet peeve is going to networking and professional events and have people say "So how's business?" There's 2 main reasons why I hate that statement:
1. You're not acknowledging that you are talking to a person . Whenever someone asks me that I always feel like they're just trying to get information out of me that they can use for a cost-comparison analysis. They also tend to be the person who walks away 3 sentences later. Besides, we all know most people fudge numbers a bit or perhaps highlight better sales times than others, particularly if they've had a bad year. And if they don't exaggerate then they are vague and often that's where the conversation dies. Sometimes they'd rather not talk about it, which can be true even when numbers are good. There's fine line between professional conversation and giving too much away, or at least that's how I feel. However, I have seen people rattle off numbers down to the dollar like it's a wikipedia info page which then leads me to questions their sensibility.
2. It's non-specific, uncreative and impersonal. I usually try to ask people what their job includes so if I meet someone instead of saying 'Oh, I know that hotel. How's business been this summer?' I would say "Oh, [business], that's a great place! So what do you do there? What's an average day like for you?" This gives me an idea of their role, how the person views their job, what they do & don't like. It opens up conversation and allows me to actually learn something about the person standing next to me instead of drilling them for statistics. Granted, some people are better at that than others. I always hope that at the end of the day, people feel like their experience with me was positive and that they spoke with someone who actually cares about what they care about. This is what builds clientele that will follow you. This is the kind of interaction that is important.
When looking at a long-term career path, whatever you're doing, if you're a good and friendly person who others respect, it will get you farther. No one becomes successful without interacting with other people. So even when it seems like Joe Schmoe over there is getting everything he wants, you have to remember that at some point he will plateau or head straight back down. You can't spend your whole career pushing people aside and then be surprised when no one is around to help pull you up. Cheesy? Maybe. True? Definitely.