Studies have repeatedly shown that the happiest people are the ones with the most meaningful relationships. Yet it seems to have become increasingly difficult to maintain these relationships. Too often we are guilty of treating the people we come in contact with as part of a transaction or as a private audience for us. We miss out on an opportunity to make a deeper connection that can potentially enrich both lives.
Think about your best friend or your significant other; both were strangers at one time. How different your life would be if they had remained strangers. Thank goodness you found a way to develop a rapport that turned an initial contact into a lifelong relationship.
But something is happening in our society. Research shows that over the past several decades our inner circle—the people we trust the most—is much smaller than in the past. Today the average American trusts only 10 to 20 people.
RELATIONSHIPS ARE MORE VITAL THAN EVER IN THE BUSINESS WORLD
Understand this: There is an Uber coming to every industry. Uber is part of the digital disruption that completely turned the taxi and limousine industries upside down. But you can track similar developments in other realms. Amazon has disrupted nearly all retail businesses—grocery stores, health insurance, banks, home security, entertainment, pharmacies, and shipping, and it continues to expand into other fields. Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry. Netflix wiped out video rental stores.
No business is safe. In the past, cutting-edge innovation had a much longer shelf life in overcoming competition. Now, however, many of your competitors can replicate your innovations and quickly reduce any temporary advantage you had in the market. The answer cannot just be about technology, either. To be sure, technological advancements are critical to every business staying relevant. However, technology by itself is not a differentiator. The more you place technology between the company and the customer, the more you remove the human experience.
People crave human interaction. Customers desire recognition and a personalized experience; technology can never be empathetic or build relationships. In short, technology cannot provide genuine hospitality. It cannot express empathy, make people feel cared for, express emotions and vulnerability in a relatable way, or make people smile and laugh.
For anyone and any business to thrive in the future, they will have to master the art of relationship building.
"Our careers, our companies, our relationships, and indeed our very lives succeed or fail, gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time." — Susan Scott
A RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING STRATEGY
It takes a great deal of work to build deep, long-term relationships. In Ben Healy's article "How to Make Friends, According to Science," he shared a recent study that found it takes approximately 50 hours of socializing to go from acquaintance to casual friend, an additional 40 hours to become a "real" friend, and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend. "Self-disclosure makes us more likable, and as a bonus, we are more inclined to like those to whom we have bared our soul. Longing for closeness and connection is universal," Healy said.
A study by the Relational Capital Group revealed that 89 percent of senior leaders believe that relationships are the most important factor in their success year over year. However, the study also revealed that only 24 percent of these leaders actually do anything intentionally to promote building those relationships. Finally, the study further indicated that less than 5 percent of organizations actually have any specific strategies for helping their professionals develop and strengthen the relationships required to achieve their goals.
WHAT IT TAKES TO MASTER RAPPORT BUILDING
No one is born with a rapport-building gene. And not everyone is inclined to be outgoing or to strike up a conversation with people they don't know. The environment you grow up in plays a big part in how you act. If you had extremely outgoing parents, chances are you will grow up to behave similarly. However, even if you were not exposed to an outgoing environment in your early years, this skill set can certainly be developed and mastered. There are certain sets of characteristics you need to work on in order to master relationship building. We will be discussing them in more detail in the following chapters. But briefly, to develop strong relationships you:
Must be authentic
Must be obsessively curious
Must be a great listener
Must have incredible empathy
Must love people