Your ability to establish and maintain relationships over time is essential to your personal and business success in the A/E business or any business.
At 63, I can think back over my long life and one of the best aspects of that life is the relationships that I have built over the years. I am so lucky that I have so many friends and acquaintances!
Whenever the house is empty and it’s just me and our 140 pound Great Pyrenees, “Gambino” (I didn’t name him!), there are always a plethora of options of people I can call who would be glad to have a talk where we can catch up with each other. The same thing applies to business. If I need some help with a problem, I know experts who can help me. If I need money for a business, I have many bankers who will be there with it. If I need to sell something, I will likely know someone who could be interested. If I need to fix something, I will have someone to call. If I need help doing a manual labor task, I have people who will assist me. If I want to help someone find a job, I will have options of who I can call.
I have done OK in life but am by no means the most successful person out there. That said, the reason I have all of these friends and resources is because I have been able to establish and keep long-term relationships. Reflecting over my life and WHY I am in that position, and how I can help others get there, many thoughts come to mind. Some of those include:
- You can’t be transactional. I said to my wife just the other day that one of the best aspects of being a college professor is all of the relationships I have with my students – some of which go back to my very first class I taught at The Walton College nearly 17 years ago. What makes these relationships so special is they are not at all transactional. I can listen, be helpful, do favors for people, direct them to resources, help them find jobs or whatever, and I expect or want absolutely nothing in return. You have to be willing to put out for other people with zero expectations of reciprocity if you want to have long-term relationships!
- You have to initiate. I spoke last week to an old client of mine on the West Coast. Although he started out in the engineering business, today he is a very successful large-scale land developer. In this case it was he who picked up the phone and gave me a call out of the blue and we spent about an hour going over the past 10 years or so and what’s happening today. But the point is it would not have happened had he not done what he did. We didn’t go back and forth in a half-dozen emails and schedule a call a week out in the future – instead, he just called. Sometimes you need to do that. What’s the worst that can happen? The person you are calling can’t talk then and they call you back later.
- You have to be real. While I believe having long-term relationships is fundamental to having a satisfying life, it also helps tremendously in business. As my friend Matt Lewis, general manager of Lewis Automotive says, people need to first know you so they can like you, and if they like you they may be able to trust you. A pre-condition of liking you is KNOWING you. To know you requires that you be willing to share certain information about yourself. You can’t be fake. You can’t only give the positive aspects of your day or your life and expect anyone to believe that you are real. Share your mistakes. Share your screw ups. Share your struggles. Then other people will do the same with you. And knowing those things about each other will lead to your liking each other and trusting each other.
- You have to be trustworthy. That means if someone tells you not to say anything about something they are sharing with you, you must keep their confidence. If you won’t or can’t do that, it will damage your relationships – not just with the person whose confidence you are betraying, but also with everyone else. The reason is because the people you share information with (info you shouldn’t be sharing) have just learned you can’t be trusted. So keep secrets when asked to!
There is much more to this subject, and I have written on it before and will undoubtedly do so again. But the fact is your ability to establish and maintain relationships over time (and that same ability of your people) is essential to your personal and business success in the A/E business or any business. Talk about it. Work on it. Practice it. Be selfless, be real, and be trustworthy. And train other people to do it. You cannot put a price on the value of the relationships you will build from doing so!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.