It’s relationships. Always is.
If you want to focus on one thing to make 2021 a bigger success, build better business relationships.
That IS the answer. Always is. Building better business relationships supersedes better strategies, better processes, better time management, better self-discipline.
You might go ya, ya, ya, I know that. Great. Let’s break it down, shall we? Because in 2020, we came up with a whole bunch of sorry excuses for why we let our relationships slide.
You miss the rituals of in-person connection, I get it. The joking. The back-slapping. The social banter. I miss that too. If anything, Covid isolation has shown us just how much in-person relating energizes us.
Good. Now let’s dig a little deeper.
"We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. "William James
Dr. Vivek Murthy is the incoming US Surgeon General. He served in the same role under President Obama, and he knows a thing or two about building better business relationships.
In his book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, published last year, Murthy describes a practice he calls “Inside Scoop.” He introduced it at his staff meetings when he was US Surgeon General the first time around.
Our staff grew so quickly and was so busy dealing with pressing public health issues, Murthy writes, that many of our team members didn’t have a chance to get to know one another. The team included a decorated Army nurse; a woman who had spent years providing dental care to incarcerated individuals; an accomplished pianist and preacher; an Olympic-level runner; and several team members who had struggled with addiction in their families. People generally got along well, but we didn’t fully recognize one another’s rich life experiences.
So what IS Inside Scoop? At each weekly staff meeting, one team member was asked to share something about themselves through pictures for 5 minutes. Presenting was an opportunity to share more of our lives, Vivek explains, and listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen.
"Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours."Dale Carnegie
Inside Scoop quickly became his team’s favorite time of the week. I am not surprised. The use of pictures fosters emotional connection. Murthy’s experience with Inside Scoop shows that, admit it or not, we yearn for emotional connection.
Everyone on Murthy’s team felt more valued after seeing their colleague’s genuine reactions to their stories. Team members who had traditionally been quiet during discussions began speaking up. They appeared less stressed at work. And most of them said they felt more connected to their colleagues and the mission they served.
I’m not here to lobby for Inside Scoop. But I know that if you want to focus on building better business relationships like those sparked by Inside Scoop, go a little deeper. The following relationship practices help get us there.
I hate small talk but I know I have to do it. Sound familiar? Because that’s what they taught you in Corporate Communications class. They explained it to you in the Cultural Competence workshop where you learned that some cultures value non-business conversation and don’t respond well to purely transactional talk. So yes, you got the message. You force yourself to engage in a bit of small talk, but gosh you hate it. It feels like a waste of time.
You’re not alone. Chances are, the person you’re small-talking with hates it as much as you do. Two people engaged in a conversation both hate. That DOES sound horrible, doesn’t it? Let’s flip this, shall we! Stop your small-talking, immediately.
Show genuine interest in other people, instead. Not the surface stuff. That’s the lesson of Inside Scoop, after all. Inquire about the challenges the other person has faced, the lessons she has learned, the victories he has claimed. Chances are, these are the things that matter to your colleague. Not the last movie they saw on Netflix. No, the big stuff. Show interest in that.
And if that interest isn’t there, get some. Quickly. Sustained professional success without a genuine interest in others will not happen for you.
We all have a little warrior inside of us. For some of us, this warrior burrows deep within. For others, the warrior hovers right near the surface, ready to pounce. We may deny that we have this warrior or like to tell ourselves that the warrior is tamed, but here’s what happens in many conversations: We tend to disagree with others, more frequently than we like. We find it hard to shut up. We like to prove that our perspective is better laid out than theirs. We like to show that we are right – and often, we are. And we certainly like to have the final word.
We’re smart. We were always told how smart we are. They also told us that no one really likes the smartest person in the room, and they warned us to not always wear our smarts on our sleeves. We have learned first-hand that being smart can be a curse. Especially when the smart warrior takes over. In spite of ourselves.
There is a beauty in being silent. In allowing others to talk and just chilling a bit. This is not always easy because we have lots of great ideas. Trust it, please. A little more chill gives a lot more space for a better business relationship.
Back in the days, before I became an Executive Coach, I taught Acting at some big acting schools in Manhattan. Actors learn very quickly that what makes a performance great is rarely how well we speak the words in our script but the subtext that we create. Subtext – that is the inner language of a character. His feelings, her motivations, the objectives or intentions toward the other characters. More compelling performances tend to have a more compelling subtext.
Every person in our business life has a subtext, as well. That subtext = our personal drivers and motivators. Our ambitions. The things that make us tick. Get us out of bed in the morning. All colored by our wounds, our moods, our disappointments, our joys. We may not always show or reveal this subtext. We may, in fact, hide it exceedingly well. When you, however, connect with this subtext within me, you and I have entered a more richly personal relationship. Notice those moments when I show you a glimpse of my subtext. I have just opened a little door for you. Enter.
Building better business relationships is that simple.
Stop the small talk. That’s pretty liberating, isn’t it!
Un-battle your conversations. Also liberating, wouldn’t you say?
Get to the underlying stuff. That’s where most people get truly interesting. Where relationships come to life. Where we truly connect. Why the heck not?
Yes, if you want to do one thing better in 2021, do better business relationships. They will get you everything else.
And let’s drop all the Zoom excuses, please. Virtual relationships are here to stay. Inside Scoop works on Zoom. It all does.