THE BLOG
05/29/2013 03:28 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2013

Being Intentional About Business Relationships

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Every action we take with regards to relationships in the business world is intentional. On some level, we likely know what we are doing, but may not always consider the impact of our actions or the repercussions. The challenge is, people on the receiving end of our actions notice...and they are not likely to forget. We may be perceived as a "giver" or a "taker." Maybe they see us as either "fake" or "authentic." Regardless, it is important to know how we come across to others and make corrections if necessary.

Most of my relationship observations have been experienced through watching the actions of job seekers and people doing business development. Both categories of professionals rely on networks of people to achieve their goals. What has been obvious to me over the years is the clear demarcation between best and worst relationship practices.

Worst Business Relationship Practices
• Only reaching out when you need something.
• Only talking about yourself.
• Mistaking connections through social media as substitutes for real relationships.
• Avoiding being personal.
• Failing to be transparent about what you want.
• Going from "hello" with a new contact to "I want..." without building a trusting and open relationship first.
• Keeping score.
• Abusing your network with frequent requests.
• Not following up appropriately.
• Failing to show gratitude.

Best Business Relationship Practices
• Being authentic.
• Getting personal. Your transparency will invite them to be transparent in return.
• Being candid.
• Always try to "pay it forward" and offer to help the other person first.
• Being insatiably curious about others. Learn and remember personal things about others like spouse and kid names, hobbies, interests and birthdays.
• Finding meaningful ways to touch base with your network consistently throughout the year.
• Freely sharing ideas, connections and content. Always add value to the relationship.
• Doing what you say you will do.
• Meeting people in person whenever it is convenient and appropriate.
• Always being grateful.

I have certainly struggled with following the "Best Practices" list over the years, but each interaction with another professional has been a lesson-filled experience, which has helped me improve in this area so critical to achieving professional and personal success. Why did I feel compelled to write this post? Unfortunately, I have observed countless business relationships get off to the wrong start or end in frustration and failure because of a stubborn pursuit of the actions on the "Worst Practices" list.

I would suggest that a pervasive lack of self-awareness and an unbalanced focus on our own needs are the biggest contributors to poorly done business relationships. If you feel convicted about your own relationship practices and sincerely desire to change, I encourage you to do these three things:

1. Reflect on your last five encounters with people in your business network. What were the results? Be honest. What can you improve? How many of your actions were on the Worst list vs. the Best list?
2. Ask the most honest and candid person you know to give you feedback on how you conduct relationships. Do not seek encouragement or validation. This exercise requires brutal honesty.
3. Ask for feedback from one of the "failed" business encounters mentioned in bullet number one. Ask how they perceived you. Ask how you might have approached them differently. You may not always get feedback (or like what you hear), but if they respond, the lesson is invaluable.

If you are a job seeker, looking to develop new business or are another professional dependent on strong relationships, consider how intentional you have been in your past actions. Are you satisfied with your efforts and results to date? Think about times you have been on the receiving end of the Worst Relationship Practices. How did these encounters make you feel?

I encourage you to dare to be different. Build a strong network of like-minded professionals and nurture these valuable relationships with a new mindset and approach. Be the opposite of every bad encounter you have ever had in business. As for me, I have always found that being friendly, curious, authentic and sincerely saying "What can I do to help you?" has been the best way to get business relationships off to a great start.