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Learning to Love Building Relationships

Posted By Ron Sidman, Friday, July 24, 2020

 

life is a team sport. there are few meaningful things you can create or accomplish without support from or teamwork with other human beings. this is true in both our business and personal lives. but building relationships is something many people of all ages struggle with. it didn't come naturally to me. 

I was recently asked to be a panelist on a Zoom webinar for college seniors preparing for the challenging task of entering the job market during the current pandemic. The principal strategy discussed was the use of networking both to learn more about possible career options and to make contact with people who might help them land that first job.

 

Interacting with the students underscored for me both the incredible value of knowing how to build relationships with people but also how uncomfortable it can be for people of all ages to do it. As very much a private person myself, it took me a long time to appreciate the value and overcome my own resistance. My mentoring work with CEOs tells me I'm not alone.

 

Sometimes you just get lucky and meet someone who turns out to be a great contact, friend, or source of information. But most of the time, you need to make it happen. It's a skill that's well worth developing - even if, like me, you have to force yourself to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. Here are some suggestions based on the times I did it right. No doubt I missed a lot of opportunities as well.

 

Tips for Creating Beneficial Relationships

1. Follow Your Plan

Your time is precious and relationships take time to create and maintain. So, it pays to make sure you're spending your relationship building time on the goals you most want to accomplish. Connecting with the right people is often the best way to accomplish a goal.

 

Example: To counter new competition that was attacking my company on price, we needed to further differentiate The First Years brand. We chose to do that by becoming known for superior child development expertise. What we needed was an affiliation with a well-known child development expert. After identifying the ideal parenting guru, I networked through the development office at Boston Children's Hospital until I was able to talk with him on the phone. That began an extremely beneficial and rewarding 20-year relationship with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and the Child Development Unit at Harvard University. 

2. Join an Organization

Sometimes you don't have a particular person you want to contact but you know where the people you're interested in meeting hang out.

 

Example: In the early years of my company's existence, we were not members of JPMA. We joined when we thought we were ready to participate in the JPMA Show. Fortunately, I recognized the value of not only being a member but also of getting on the board of directors. It was one of the best business decisions I ever made. Joining the board was the beginning of great career-long relationships with executives from other companies as well as JPMA leadership and staff. It also gave me the opportunity to be aware of and have a say in all the key issues that the industry was facing. Finally, not to say that misery loves company, but the perspective I gained by talking to other industry leaders in my position was invaluable.

 

3. Create an Organization

If the people you want to meet aren't in an organization, you can create one.

 

Example: When I first created The First Years brand, I was a 25-year-old single guy with no idea what it was like to be a parent. In fact, I didn't have my first child until 15 years later. Talk about trying to land a plane on an aircraft carrier while blindfolded! We desperately needed an ongoing way to connect with expectant and new parents. So, we put an ad in a local paper and asked new moms to meet with us in the meeting room of a local motel to help us create new and better baby products. We promised snacks and an opportunity to meet other moms. The response was overwhelming. Eventually that evolved into a national community of moms and dads we called The First Years Parents Council.

 

4. Learn How to Make People Feel Happy

I still sometimes find it hard to believe that the best way to help yourself is to help other people. As the saying goes "what goes around comes around." People you help today will come to your aid tomorrow. It also just feels good. Fill your world with people who are appreciative of what you've  done for them. It's the best way to be relationship-rich.

 

Example: My father was my role model when it comes to this skill. In his relationships with buyers, he knew how to get people to talk about themselves by asking questions that they would enjoy answering. Then he would listen carefully looking for opportunities to help them with business or personal issues as a way to solidify the relationship. Times have changed and the relationships between buyers and company personnel are generally more professional today. But people are still people and it still pays to have that "how can I improve this person's life" mindset when you spend time with anyone in both your business and personal lives.

 

5. Learn How to Leverage Your Existing Relationships

Often the best way to meet new people is by introductions from people you know or who know you. Calling someone out of the blue has little chance of working. We all are wary of calls or invitations from unknown individuals. 

 

Example: In my "second career" after selling my company, I was interested in making a connection with nearby Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) to become a mentor to business school students. I mentioned this to everyone I knew who might have a helpful contact there. One day I expressed this desire to one of my squash buddies. Turned out he had a friend who was a professor at FGCU. That person introduced me to the head of the School of Entrepreneurship. And that led to me becoming a mentor and having the enjoyment of meeting and helping numerous students over the past five years, being a judge at business startup competitions, establishing friendships with many professors, and becoming part of the FGCU community.

 

6. Build Trust

Relationship building can be a way to break down barriers or overcome conflicts. But it can only happen if you first build trust by being open, honest, and genuine. 

 

Example: The best example I know is not from my life but that of Bob Iger, CEO at Disney. In his book The Ride of a Lifetime, he describes how under his predecessor, Michael Eisner, the relationship between Disney and Pixar, the up and coming computer animation company had imploded. The personal conflict between Eisner and Steve Jobs, at the time the head of Pixar, led to Jobs announcing he would never work with Disney again. Problem was that preserving that relationship was critical to Disney's future in animation. What Iger did brilliantly was to over time establish a relationship of trust and mutual respect between himself and Jobs that eventually led to Disney buying Pixar in a deal that has been a huge boon for both companies. 

 

7. Don't Forget the Maintenance

Like gardens, relationships wither if not attended to. If you've gone to the trouble of establishing beneficial relationships, keep them alive.

 

Example: I had always used videoconferencing in my mentoring work. Some clients liked it and some didn't. Now the pandemic has made it much more universally accepted. To me this is great and ought to become the status quo. With my friends, family, and business partners, I've tried to be the friend or group member who takes the initiative to propose repeating scheduled Zoom or FaceTime sessions. To be respectful of others' time, keep the meetings short. Even a half hour is often enough and certainly no more than an hour. If you're like me, you might want to keep lists of things you'd like to discuss at the next session.

 

Next Steps

Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, consciously and proactively building and maintaining relationships can be one of the most life and business-enhancing things you can do. Take a look at your personal and business goals and identify new relationships that could help you accomplish them. Then start working on it today!

 

As always, if you’d like more information or assistance regarding achieving your business and life goals or you just want someone to brainstorm, vent, or commiserate with, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program by scheduling a Zoom, Skype, or Face Time session with me. I’d enjoy meeting you and helping you any way I can. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Reta Adler at  radler@jpma.org.

 

 

Ron Sidman was the founder and CEO of The First Years, Inc. and former Vice Chairman of the JPMA Board of Directors. He is currently a business consulting resource for JPMA members and serves on the Advisory Boards of both the School of Entrepreneurship and the Dean of the College of Education at Florida Gulf Coast University. Ron is also the President of Evolutionary Success, LLC, a life and business coaching company.

 

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