What is the single biggest key to business success? Some may say it’s having a product or service that solves a problem. That would be a good answer, but I think there’s a better one. Others would argue that it’s all about customer acquisition. Again, great answer, but still not the right one.
Here’s where I land on the question. Every success that’s ever been realized by an organization or a business person comes down to one thing: Relationships.
Now I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but at one point or another, we’ve all been sold a bill of goods. We’ve been told sales, building our personal brand, amassing followers on social media, investing in personal and professional development, among other things, will make us successful. While all of those are important in the grand scheme of things none of them independently will lead to success in business.
Not yet convinced? Let’s step away from the topic of business and just look at life in general. Several years ago, Harvard completed a 75-year study that observed and measured, among other things, how relationships affect happiness and health. From 1939 to 2014, the study tracked the physical and emotional well-being of 268 male graduates from Harvard, as well as 456 poor men growing up in the inner city of Boston. Multiple geHonerations of researchers analyzed brain scans, blood samples, self-reported surveys, and interactions of these men to compile their findings. The study produced one resounding message: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. The study found that having someone to lean on helps stimulate brain function and reduces emotional and even physical pain. People who feel lonely are more likely to experience health declines earlier in life, and they tend to die sooner, the study says. The study’s authors summarize their findings this way: “The good life is built with good relationships.”
So getting back to the conversation between relationships and business success, think about the most important asset you have as a business person. Undeniably, it’s your personal and professional network. Not your social media network—your real life, tangible, reach-out-and-talk-to-someone network. These are the people you call on for advice, referrals, sales, introductions, career opportunities, etc. One real relationship is more valuable than 10,000 followers on social media.
Now if you’re still tracking with me, here are 9 practical and actionable tips for you to follow in order to initiate, nurture, and get the most out of any relationship.
- Make time. Building meaningful relationships with those who are important to you takes time. Think of your time as an investment tool, and think of the relationship as the thing you’re investing in. The more you invest, the more valuable the relationship will become over time.
- Remember names. Dale Carnegie once said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” If you have a hard time remembering names, train yourself. One way that I’ve done this is to think of something that rhymes with the person’s name, making it easy to remember.
- Say hello. In a social setting, do not shy away from conversations. In fact, make it common practice to always be the first person to start a conversation. Instead of talking about the weather or last night’s game, ask genuine questions and listen.
- Always be honest. When sharing your opinions, feedback, or delivering less than great news that will affect the other person, be empathetic, honest, and direct. And if at all possible, do it face to face in a private setting, not via text, email, or social media.
- Value diversity. Seek out relationships with those who differ from you, those with different backgrounds and viewpoints. The broader your perspective is, the stronger your relationships will be.
- Give credit. Always seek to give credit where credit is due. The more you put the spotlight on others, the brighter life becomes.
- Lend your shoulder. People always remember those who are there for them in tough times. When someone is having a rough go of things, look for ways to help. No genuine gesture is too small.
- Gossip killer. Refrain from gossiping and politely stop others from doing so in your presence. Remove the reference “they” from your day to day conversations with others. Gossip always tears down, it never builds up. Be a builder.
- Own failure. When you screw up, admit it, own it, fix it, learn from it, and don’t do it again.
So in closing, remember: relationships have been, and will always be, the most important ingredient in living a long, healthy, and successful life.