My Relationship Network: Me, Myself and I?

Todd Popham
Popham & Associates

"Tom" is a successful leader who has performed very well in internal, operational roles. His supervisor would like him to network more aggressively. He is concerned Tom is relying on his existing operations network to succeed in his new role—assuming external relationships will come his way. But Tom, a client of mine who approached me with this problem, was not sure networking was in the cards for him.

Let’s look at the difference between an efficient vs. effective relationship network. An efficient network centers on taking care of what others want, resulting in a short-term, transactional relationship driven by emails and phone calls. This can lead to shallow relationships and very little collaboration. An effective relationship centers on needs, not wants—uncovering the real challenges through conversations driven by mutual questions and respect. These conversations generate energy, opportunities and long-term mutual benefits.

The research on workplace relationships centers on several new realities:

  • People are spending more time at work;
  • Relationships at work generate few friends and many acquaintances; and
  • Communication is becoming more virtual.

What this means is the relationship-building model of the past—plenty of face time with your supervisor and coworkers, moderate workloads and real conversations—has been replaced by isolation, heavy workloads and impersonal communications. The focus on efficiency within “more with less” workplaces can discount and not reward effective relationship building. Studies continue to verify that effective relationships produce value in the workplace, though the ROI can be difficult to measure. Here are three keys to building an effective personal relationship network:

  1. Talk to strangers. This violates what our mothers told us, but the new reality is that strangers can be sources of great opportunities. Get started by signaling to someone you are interested in starting a conversation—make it easy for them to engage. A good conversation includes an introduction, sharing stories and discussing topics of mutual interest, and a positive exit, exchanging contact information and potential next steps.
  2. Give more, take less. Ask yourself: are you a giver or taker? Your response is likely "I am a giver." But how do you really know? Author Adam Grant, in his book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, indicates that people fall into one of three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Takers try to get everything they can, matchers trade evenly and givers are the rare breed who expect nothing in return. His research found givers establish the most effective long-term relationships. Once again, it is not all about me.
  3. Identify your entourage. All great leaders have a group of individuals who believe, support and connect them to other successful people. Important note to self: your entourage is not just about you. Your role is to understand their needs and then share yours. The first step is up to you—they will follow when they know the relationship is a mutually beneficial one.

Tom believed his network was small but sufficient; he needed a wake-up call from his boss to realize he had relationship gaps. We all need effective relationships to prevent us from becoming stuck. Build your relationship network by intentionally welcoming new connections, giving more than you take and enlisting your entourage for shared success. One new handshake may completely change your world. iBi

Todd Popham is president and CEO of Popham & Associates, LLC, which provides coaching, small business consulting and leadership training. For more information, visit pophamassociates.com.

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