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In this super-connected age, it is more important than ever to know how to build strong relationships and also to be able to keep them. This is the number one thing that distinguishes successful people from the rest, their ability to build strong relationships. Ask anyone who made it on his secret sauce and the answer will be relationships. Also, learning this skill will not only help you improve your business, but personal life as well. In this article, you will find six proven and tested ways to help you achieve exactly that. Are you ready to become a super-connector?
1. Talk in Simple Language
One mistake I made for a long time was using technical terms and jargon in business communication. Seriously. Every email between me and my clients contained at least one word you would have to look up, unless you were from the technology or design industry. The obvious reason was that I wanted to show how much knowledge and skills do I have. In other words, great case study of insecurity and self-doubt. Why else would I or you show how much you know than to avoid looking stupid or incompetent? Well, jargon allows you to charge more.
If you don’t believe it, imagine two scenarios. In both scenarios you want to hire an expert. In the first situation, the person you are talking with is explaining everything in complex and hard to understand terms. It’s almost like listening to gibberish. In the second situation, applicant will explain everything so simple it’s almost unbelievable. Both experts charge the same rate. Which one would you hire? Unfortunately, many people would hire the expert from first scenario.
It is easier for you to justify your decision if the expert will explain the theory in a complex words because he will seem more knowledgeable. The reality is that the form in which the idea is explained doesn’t matter that much. The only important thing is whether the person understand the subject or not. What’s more, it is often the person who can explain things in simple language who understand it more and in-depth. Albert Einstein put it superbly: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Use this knowledge to build strong relationships by simplifying your business communication between you and your clients or partners. They should never need to flip through dictionary or search the word on the Internet to understand it. If you find yourself questioning comprehensibility of any word, it should be you who will make the effort and come up with better word. This task should never be left one your client. Remember that smooth and relaxed (to a certain degree) will bring you more pleasant life and more enjoyable business opportunities.
Takeaway: Make your business conversation so simple, even your great-grandmother would understand it. Keep the jargon for your colleagues and friends.
2. Be a Great Listener
Let’s switch gears for a moment from talking to listening. This is something I struggled for a very long time. When I had a meeting with a client or just anyone, I was not really listening to them. It was not because I was talking all the time. When I hang out with someone, I will rather let the other side do the talking part and take care about the listening (I am INTJ on Myers-Briggs type indicator). Having said that, I was still not listening. Words were just coming in one ear and out the other. My mind was more concerned about what I should say next or what to do later in the day.
If you are in the same situation as I was, I’ve got a great news for you. All you need to do is to, first, accept it and, second, learn how to listen actively. In a short, active listening is about concentrating on the message the other person is saying to you. You can recognize when someone is actively listening by looking at him. He is fully engaged in conversation with his body-keeps eye contact, smiles and leans towards his partner. Let’ not forget feedback when partner stop talking.
I guess that now you understand why it is more comfortable for you to be in the presence of some people. These people know what the secret to build strong relationship is and are using it. These people are actively listening to you when you talk and often provide you with feedback in the end. Developing this skill can make wonders to your business. Your clients and partners will also be more likely to meet or talk with you. They will see you are there really listening to them and appreciate it. So, if you can teach yourself only one thing, it should be to listen actively.
Takeaway: Building strong relationships require you to shut your mouth from time to time and just listen. Remember, relationships are two-way street.
3. Always Be Polite
It is easy, in times when you face some problem, to fall of the track of professionalism and start to swear. Imagine you just got hired to make changes on already running project, let’s say a website. Everything seems great until you take a look under the hood. Only now, you are able to realize what a mess the project actually is. Code lacks any style and is almost unreadable, even if it’s not minified. There are also tons of overrides. The deeper you go, the less sense it makes. You are probably familiar with this or similar situation.
It would be understandable to sit down and write an email full of swearing, insults to your client. It would allow you to let off some steam and calm down. Question is… Would this also allow you to build strong relationships with your clients? I doubt that and you probably too. Remember, this is not about being a macho or showing how big dictionary you have. This is business and you are a businessman. You are also adult (maybe). Therefore, you should act like one or start immediately.
The times when you were competing with others about who can come up with the filthiest word are long gone. Your clients and business partners expect from you professionalism and showing some good manners. To put it differently, you will never build strong relationships while acting like an immature or an idiot. Frankly, this “strategy” doesn’t work even when you want to get a girlfriend. Although some woman may be willing to hang out with you once in a while, you will never be her choice for more meaningful relationship (Women, please correct me if I am wrong).
So, to save you from shame, angry clients and just anyone wishing to punch you in the face, change the way you behave. You can start with revising your dictionary and the words you use in business (and casual) communication. If you will be faced with resistance from the side of your friends, don’t worry. Maybe it is time to leave them behind and move on with your life. Think about how many new strong relationships will you build with people you don’t know yet. By the way, keeping your conversation with clients polite will give you higher chances to be recommended.
Takeaway: Avoid using rude and filthy words. Keep conversation polite no matter what happened. You are a businessman, act like one.
4. Have Beginner’s Mind
Although your client hired you for your skills, knowledge and experiences don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Show that you are only human being and as anyone else, you too, are imperfect. Your client will appreciate your honesty and transparency. In most cases, your lack of knowledge will not cost you the project. If you are pleasant to work with, most of clients will be willing to give you a bit more time and space to learn what’s necessary and finish the work.
Crucial part of keeping a beginner’s mind is that you must be willing to learn what you don’t know. Everyone can admit either to themselves or loudly he doesn’t know something. However, this is also where the vast number of people stop. I don’t know something, I accept it and move on to something else I’m more capable of doing. The reason behind this behavior is that we, people, want to avoid situations where we feel either uncomfortable or vulnerable. Problem is that with this mindset you will never be able to get better and find new opportunities to make more money.
The solution is adopting concept known in Zen Buddhism called shoshin. This term in simplest words means “beginner’s mind”. Switch your mindset and adopting this concept is about staying open to new things no matter the subject. It also means you are eager to fill the gaps in your skills and knowledge by taking the time and studying. The last part is get rid of any preconceptions because this the fundamental thing about beginner’s mind. You have no knowledge and no preconceptions about the subject. You are open to anything and everything, willing to experiment.
Takeaway: You don’t have to know everything or be an expert on every subject. You just have to know where to find it and be willing to learn it.
5. Always Be Honest
Have you ever heard that quote “fake it till you make it”? Although this advice can be very useful and help you move and learn faster while making enough money to live, it has its limits. Meaning, there is a difference between “faking” something and simply lying to your client. While the first one is acceptable and understanding under understandable the latter is something you must avoid at all costs. Seriously, all jokes aside. In order to build strong relationships with your clients and business partners and also keep them in the long-term, never ever lie to them.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the lie you want to use is, forget about it immediately. You have to remember two things. First, there is nothing more damaging to relationships and reputation than lying. Second, when relationship is damaged or even destroyed, complete regeneration is very hard, if not impossible. Lying either to your client or business partner is not like playing with fire. It is much more like playing with dynamite. If it blows up in your hand, you will never get your hand back, at least not the same as the “original”. So, if you want to build strong relationships, never ever lie to anyone.
Takeaway: Your reputation is your most important asset. Guard and nurture it. Never, ever, ever lie to your client or business partner.
6. Get in Touch Once in a While
Do you think that your relationship with your client will end when you finish the project and get paid? You are wrong. Unless you don’t want to hear from that client ever again, you should keep his contact. Contrary to what you might think, you are not keeping their contact just to make another sale. You are keeping it so you can send your client nice short email or SMS message on occasions such as holidays, birthdays and other important dates.
Let me repeat it once more time. Your main goal is not to start selling your services, but to reach out in friendly, non-business, manner. Following this strategy will set you apart from majority of other businessman I freelancers. Even though your former client will not have any other projects to hire you for, your friendly approach may bring you new opportunities in the form of great recommendations from that client. Think about it. Who would you recommend? Someone who never got in touch with you again after the project was finished? Or, would you rather recommend a person who will send you a note on your birthdays, on holidays or just to say “hi”?
I think the choice is pretty clear. When you are polite and make an effort to get in touch with your clients on these personally important dates, their hearts are pretty much defenseless. Another benefit is that with this approach you don’t have to sell yourself as hard. So, if you don’t like selling either yourself or your services, follow this tip and your work will become much more comfortable. Think about it just like you do about messaging your friend because we can spot or smell almost any attempt of being sold. Trust me, it will smell even from mail. Keep it friendly and relaxed.
Takeaway: Remember what dates are important for your clients and business partners and get in touch with them on these occasions.
Closing Thoughts on Building Strong Relationships
Building strong relationships is a skill that can be learned. You don’t have to be born with certain genes or abilities. All you need is willingness to invest your time and effort. Nothing more, but also nothing less. If you are still in doubts, think about all the rewards learning and mastering this skill will bring you. Let’s be honest. It’s not just about building and improving your business. Your personal relationships will benefit from it as well.
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