Resolution worth keeping: Build better relationships

Phil Castle

It’s tempting this time of year to write about New Year’s resolutions.

It’s one of those shared experiences, isn’t it? By one estimate, about 60 percent of us admit to making resolutions even though only about 8 percent of us ever claim any success in achieving them.
One way or the other, most of us start a new year resolved this year will be different. We’ll stick do it and do better.

Ironically, every day affords an opportunity for change. Still, there’s something undeniably special about the beginning of a new year. At the risk of using an anachronistic metaphor, it’s like the chalkboard covered with math problems we couldn’t solve has been erased. It’s a fresh start. A do-over. Who doesn’t want that?

I’m no different than anyone else in vowing to exercise more, eat better and lose weight. Although I recently read some good advice from the novelist and runner Haruki Murakami: A gentleman shouldn’t go on and on about what he does to stay fit. Plus, if I had the money and time, I’d rather resolve to go scuba diving more often in 2020. A lot more.

But I digress. Despite all the timely and compelling reasons to write about New Year’s resolutions, I’m actually not. At least any more. I’m going to write instead about something that could be far more important in realizing professional and personal success, and that’s building relationships.

First, a disclaimer: I have no expertise in building relationships other than the experiences I’ve gleaned over a 40-year career in newspaper journalism in cultivating relationships with sources. Every career and every business venture depends to some degree in developing relationships — with customers, suppliers and employees. But journalism is unique in requiring both the quick establishment and long-term maintenance of relationships. I have to convince people I’ve just met to trust me enough to accurately report their stories. If I’m fortunate enough to develop a rapport, I go back to those same people again and again to incorporate their knowledge and perspectives in additional reporting. To a substantial extent, a journalist is only as good as his sources.

To that end, I’m going to rely on a good source on building relationships in Andrew Sobel. The leader of his own international consulting firm and an author, Sobel has created a class titled “Building Relationships That Matter.”

I don’t know Sobel personally, but I’ve read about him. And his advice on developing professional relationships reinforces what I’ve experienced. Moreover, his advice resonates at a time when the ability to foster connections among people on a deeper level is what I consider both sadly lacking and desperately needed. Most of us have online relationships and Facebook friends. But how many of us also enjoy relationships we’ve nurtured face to face through meaningful exchanges? It’s a paradox of modern life. Technology provides more ways than ever before for people to connect. Yet, many of those connections have never been more superficial or less fulfilling.

Distilling 20 years of experience in working with more than 50,000 professionals, Sobel identifies skills and attitudes essential to building relationships, among them:

Generosity: This isn’t about giving money, but rather time, expertise and experience. It’s also about expressing genuine happiness for others who experience success or good fortune.
I believe people too often view life as a zero sum game when, in fact, win-win situations abound.

Curiosity: The more you learn from those around you, the more knowledge you accumulate. I recognized early in my career one of the best perks of journalism. You get paid to learn stuff. But it requires a willingness to demonstrate a sincere interest, ask questions and then listen. Really listen.

Empathy: This is the ability to sense what others think and feel — proverbially, to walk in their shoes. Think about the kind of relationships you build when you not only more fully understand others, but also value their points of view.

Trust: Here’s both the foundation and benefit of building relationships. Stephen M.R. Covey, another expert on building relationships, wrote a best-selling book on trust and presented the business case for trust during a lecture at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
As Sobel and Covey assert, trust improves everything from customer loyalty to collaboration to innovation. Trust is earned through character, competence and reciprocity.

Forgiveness: This doesn’t mean you absolve others of their actions, but no longer seek compensation or revenge — what Sobel said his mother described as collecting injustices.

While I promised I wasn’t going to write any more about New Year’s resolutions, I lied. Here’s one more thing. Resolve in 2020 to build relationships — to establish new ones and nurture existing ones. It takes time and commitment. But it could prove the best resolution you ever make.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at phil@thebusinesstimes.com or 424-5133.