“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation.” –Margaret Wheatley
“Life is about work. Work is about life. And both are about people,” writes Keith Ferrazzi in his book, Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Ferrazzi believes that fulfillment in life comes from our relationships with other people, and it is true. When we think about the good times in our lives, what do we think of? We don’t think of eating cake by ourselves (though some of us might…), we think about eating cake with other people.
Here’s why: relationships are not only fruitful in our personal lives, but in our business lives as well. Having more friends and more contacts leads to more success, because doing anything effectively in the world of service “takes a village.”
But we would be ill advised to think that we build relationships to simply ask for favors. We build relationships in order to give. When you think “How can I be of service?” you establish deep connection with invaluable opportunity. When we genuinely focus on someone else’s well-being, we grow more successful than we would if we had just focused on “me, me, me.”
As most of us know, relationships don’t grow overnight. Relationship building is a muscle that you work on until it becomes second nature. Below are three ways you can build meaningful relationships in work and in life.
NETWORK LIKE YOU MEAN IT
For Ferrazzi, networking is everything. We know it’s scary to walk into a room full of strangers or send that first cold email, but Ferrazzi says it is essential to do so. But how do we start if we don’t know where to begin? We start by creating a list of people and companies we admire and want to learn more about. We take that list, do our research, and start from the bottom up. Odds are attempting to contact the CEO first won’t work right off the bat, so we have to work up to it; there’s a ladder and we need to climb. We can do this by connecting with someone on a lower tier, an equal and peer. Then we can think about it like LinkedIn. You know those third connections that we can see from far away but not up close? We want to move those connections to the number one spot. We can do that by constantly putting ourselves out there and taking risks. “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity,” says Ferazzi. Don’t make connections with people just to get something out of them. Remember to always put your relationships first: if we celebrate others’ successes like our own, we’ll find that our own successes will also skyrocket. Though we always want to give to our connections, at the same time, we can’t be afraid to ask. “You are only working half the equation,” writes Ferrazzi, “until you become as willing to ask for help as you are to give it.” A relationship is a two way street.
LEAVE C-3PO AT HOME
Like Tim Gunn says on Project Runway, “Don’t bore Nina!” (Okay, so Andre actually says it, but we move on.) You know who likes to talk about the weather? No one. So don’t do it. The first part of networking is having that initial conversation–and none of us want to blow it. So what do we talk about? We know that small talk helps break the ice, but it doesn’t help building relationships. We need to throw the small talk away. “The best way to become good at small talk is not to talk small at all,” says Ferrazzi. Ferrazzi tell us the best way to combat the average weather conversation is to take a risk and say something real. When we are vulnerable, we show that we are human. Everyone is wary of a robot: it’s human beings we feel that we can trust. When we are vulnerable, we allow ourselves to open up and allow others to be vulnerable with us: that is how genuine relationships form. “You won’t build relationships unless you let your guard down,” asserts Ferrazzi. (One word of advice? Do keep the conversation mellow. Would you talk about your parents’ marital issues on a first date? We didn’t think so. The same rule applies here.)
TABLE FOR TWO, PLEASE
And then the eponymous lesson: never eat alone. Relationships may start with a cold email, but they don’t become meaningful until you break bread together, both metaphorically and literally. Having a great first conversation is wonderful, but relationships are about that second conversation, third conversation, fourth, and so on. How do you do that? Ask your connection out to brunch. Don’t like brunch? Ask her out to a bar or mini golf or wherever, and keep doing it. While you’re working out at the gym with the woman from the other night’s networking event, you’re both accelerating and deepening your relationship. Let your network become like friends. Why? “Because, flat out,” states Ferrazzi, “people do business with people they know and like.” Building a rapport is just as important as establishing trust. We always invite our own friends to dinner, so why not invite a business connection? If we never eat alone we’re constantly building connections and, as Ferrazzi puts it, weaving our quilt. As the saying goes, we can never have enough friends.
“To build authentic relationships you need to lead with generosity & serve them first,” says Keith Ferrazzi. What are your secrets to building and maintaining genuine relationships?