Whether you’re starting your first day at your dream job, attending a highly-populated conference or walking into a sales meeting, you are about to create relationships. The practice of building strong, positive business relationships is not one to be taken lightly. When we embrace the mindset of relationship building, we take the pressure off of our business interactions. It becomes about meeting new people, making new connections and discovering what makes them tick. You are meeting and connecting on a human level. You not only gain insight into who your new acquaintance is, but in doing so they discover who you ARE, not just what you do or the product you sell.
There are simple things that you can do (Right now! Today!) that will set you on the path to building better business relationships in every setting. Here are some top tips for more effective business interactions that you can take to the bank! (Or the boardroom, or a conference, or a meeting… You get what we mean.)
1. Names are important: Remember when John Travolta butchered Idina Menzel’s name on the Academy Awards? “Adele Dazeem” was born, but so was a bit of a resurgence in the acknowledgement that names are important. Correctly pronouncing another person’s name is a sign of respect- after all, our names are a huge part of who we are. When you introduce yourself, pronounce your name slowly and clearly. Patient name pronunciation helps to lessen the chance of “What did he/she say her name was?”
When someone else introduces themselves to you, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for name clarification if you need it. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I caught your name. Would you mind telling me again?” goes a long way, and will prevent any “Adele Dazeem” like occurences.
2. Eye contact builds trust: It may seem like common knowledge, but it is true that we connect with others through eye contact. Try to remember the 3 Second Rule: Aim to hold uninterrupted eye contact with an associate for 3 seconds- less may seem untrustworthy, and more can seem- well…creepy.
3. Active listening: Everyone wants to be heard, and it’s getting more difficult to do. According to research by Joseph McCormack (sited in this interesting Fast Company article) we’re receiving 304 emails/ week, checking our phones 36 times an hour, and getting interrupted 50-60 times per day- that’s a lot of distractions! Show your colleague that you are truly tuned into what they are saying by listening actively. A head-nod with strong eye contact is one way to tell them that you are present. (You can find some more active listening tips HERE.)
4. Body language awareness: Our body doesn’t always tell the same story that our words do. (Think of the executive who is absent-mindedly shaking their head “no” while saying, “Sure, that’s a great idea.”) Our body language has the potential to send mixed messages or put up a wall. However, it can also reinforce our message and build stronger connections when we communicate with a bit of self-awareness. Check in with your own body language during presentations, meetings, and one-on-one conversations. One body stance to banish now? Avoid the arms-crossed-over-your-chest look. (Or, as we call it, The Genie.) It creates a physical barrier between you and your audience, and tells them you aren’t open to what is happening.
5. Be aware of your phone usage: Did you catch the recent viral video where a gentleman named Greg Benson crashed the cell-phone conversations of random people in an airport? While hysterically funny, it also made a big point about phone usage. Most of us never want to be “that person”- the one who takes phone calls, loudly, at inappropriate times. Even around the office, be aware of your phone usage, whether on a cell or a landline. Your volume should always be respectful. And remember, few things are as off-putting as someone who takes a non-essential phone call in the middle of a conversation with another human.
6. Take the thoughts/feelings of others into account: Relationship building is not just about what you think and how you feel about things. Real progress can happen when everyone feels free to express themselves and contribute. A good colleague wants to know how his/her co-workers feel. When it comes to discerning the emotional state of another person, sometimes it's most helpful just to ask. Ask “How do you feel about that?” or “What do you think?” genuinely, with good eye contact and strong vocal production. Don't forget to employ your active listening skills to ensure that your colleague feels heard.
7. Put yourself in their shoes: The ability to empathize is an important component to building business relationships. Once you've got an idea of how someone is feeling, take a moment to actually put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, "What would it really be like if I felt this emotion in this situation?" Allow the scenario to play in your head for a bit. This helps you step towards not only acknowledging someone else's emotional state, but finding a way to empathize with it.
8. Don’t be afraid to share yourself: A great-many working relationships have been forged over a mutual love of golf, food, or even the theatre! As you create deeper, more positive business relationships, don’t be afraid to share a bit about who you are. Allow your colleagues to get to know the person behind the work and you will add an important dimension to your endeavors. When your personal stamp shines through, not only are you more engaging and memorable, but overall more authentically yourself.