Get your ideas heard! 8 tips for building better relationships

Tags: talent management, business management

Would you rather crunch numbers than mingle at a cocktail party? Are you more comfortable in a lab or library than you are at lunch with your coworkers? When you present a new product or explain a problem to coworkers or leaders, do you have trouble holding their attention because of your slower-paced, more deliberate speaking style? If so, you might be suffering from the curse of the introvert. Sure, you're über-intelligent and have great ideas, but you're either too reserved to share them or you prefer less attention-grabbing methods for communicating them than is the case with your extroverted coworkers.

Maribeth Kuzmeski says in today's tough economy, it's no longer enough to be a genius with great ideas. To get ahead, you have to be able to communicate them effectively and use them to influence others. You have to be able to connect!

"You don't have to have a big personality to be a great connector," says Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, September 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8, $22.95). "But unfortunately, too often the great ideas of introverts go unheard because the extroverts make their voices heard first.

"The bottom line is that some professions lend themselves to introverts. Scientists, accountants, and engineers, I'm looking at you! But you can't rest on your smarts laurels. You have to learn to show your value whether it's to your employer or to your clients. If you don't, rest assured there is someone else in your profession who is ready to take your place."

A key message in The Connectors is that our level of influence is directly connected to how good we are at connecting. Kuzmeski teaches that if you are able to truly connect with feeling, purpose, and honesty, you will experience more success and much-improved relationships, receive better promotions or more clients, and become known as a great leader.

That sounds great, you might be thinking. But I'm not exactly dripping with charisma. I'm not sure I have the social skills I'd need to do all of that!

"Not to worry," assures Kuzmeski. "With the right tools, strategies, and tactics, you can change the way you develop relationships and forge a network of colleagues and contacts who will stick with you through thick and thin – and best of all, voluntarily recommend your great work to others."

Read on for some straightforward, easy-to-apply tips that will garner immediate results.

Make the right connections – even if you're not a "people person." Anyone can become an effective connector, promises Kuzmeski. If you love to meet new people and enjoy being the center of attention, that's great. If not – that's OK, too. Connecting is actually less about being gregarious and more about your awareness of the relationships you are forming. To maximize the value of your interactions, Kuzmeski suggests first figuring out to whom you're relating, and how you're doing it.

"Don't panic – there's no need to become best friends with every single person you meet!" she says. "Instead, think about the people with whom it's important for you to become well acquainted in order to create loyal clients, further your career, or build a successful business. Consider categories like clients and vendors, coworkers and leaders, or specific individuals within categories. Then jot down some ideas for reaching out to each of these people."

Set yourself up for connecting success. While introverts don't share their every thought as many extroverts do, they can still make connections that are just as strong. If you're an introvert, create situations in which it is easier for you to connect. For example, most introverts like to think things through before they speak andtend to engage well with people one-on-one. So the next time you want to build a relationship with a client or coworker, meet in a one-on-one lunch meeting at a quiet restaurant rather than in a big group.

"Many introverts really like people and can engage with them," says Kuzmeski. "In fact, it's thought that introverts have fewer close relationships than extroverts but build deeper ones. When you put yourself in an environment in which you know you will be able to more easily connect, you will be able to forge these deep relationships. Remember, the more you do it, the easier it gets!"

Improve your social IQ. No matter how much you know, there's always more to learn – and that's just as true for social intelligence as it is for book smarts. Once you've determined where your connections need to be made, think about how you currently interact with these people, and be honest with yourself. Are you exclusive, controlling, and distant? Or are you inclusive, empathetic, and warm? How often do you reach out? Do you take into account what others think? How do you make them feel?

Kuzmeski suggests that at the end of each day you spend a few minutes completing the following process:

  • Review the day and your interactions with staff and clients.
  • Rate today's positive impact on others (Grades A-F).
  • Write down the notable successes and failures from the day.

"Always, always, always be mindful of the fact that your words and actions have a powerful effect on others," Kuzmeski stresses. "The people with whom you interact will unconsciously and instinctively mirror your emotions. That's why it's so important to improve your social IQ. Once you've pinpointed the areas in which you need to improve, rehearse mentally. Anticipate how people might react to what you say. Rehearse conversations in advance. Develop a vision for yourself and how you'd like to change. Then, commit to doing it."

Remember, it's not about you. It's a dog-eat-dog world, and the urge to look out for Number One can sometimes be overwhelming. But while primarily protecting your own interests might ensure your survival, you probably won't experience across-the-board success until you put others first. Instead of asking, "What's in it for me?" you need to learn to ask, "What's in it for them?" Face it: No one rises to the top without the help of a team ... and wouldn't it be nice if yours was truly invested in your success?

When people know that they matter to you, their attitudes toward you change. Their respect for you grows, they'll work harder, and they'll be aligned with your goals. When your team wins, so do you. But make no mistake: Putting others first is hard work. It means pleasantly greeting each of your employees or coworkers, even if you're having a bad day. It means advising your client to make a prudent financial choice, even if you won't net as much profit. It means humbling yourself and, at times, sacrificing your own desires and needs. In the end, though, you'll reap the rewards.

"It's amazing how far a welcoming demeanor, empathy, and authenticity can take you," says Kuzmeski. "People all around you want desperately to know that they matter. If you're ready and willing to stand with them and help meet their needs, they'll return the favor. That's the true path to greatness: It lives not in you, but through you."

Don't just network. Work your network. These days, technology makes networking almost too easy. Social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter enable anyone to build and maintain an impressively large web of business relationships. However, like a full but dusty Rolodex, a large online "network" doesn't do you much good simply by existing. In order to truly leverage the business connections you make, you've got to put in some effort.

Kuzmeski recommends using three main types of contact strategies for keeping in touch:

  • Meeting follow-up: Have a system for following up after a meeting, call, or contact with an individual or a business. This could be a handwritten note, an email, a phone call, or even a social media contact.
  • Periodic individual contact: Reach out to existing contacts on a systematic, periodic basis to stay in touch and maintain the relationship.
  • Communication campaigns: Target a subgroup within your network (e.g., clients, prospects, etc.) whenever you have something you particularly want them to know.

"Many people have the best of intentions when making a new business acquaintance, but they just haven't acquired the proper strategies for truly keeping in touch," says Kuzmeski. "Yes, the prospect of staying connected to all 1,000-some folks in your LinkedIn network seems daunting. But if you break it down to reaching out to 20 or so people a week, the task is much more manageable. Be diligent! The hardest part about keeping in contact is doing so consistently. Remember, the rewards are worth it. Your contacts will remember your name and will appreciate your efforts!"

Don't just hear – listen. Hearing is a physical ability. Listening is a skill that must be learned and practiced. In today's hectic, instant-everything world, most people just aren't willing to take the time. Admit it: As you're listening to a team member deliver a report, you're already thinking about how those results might be applied. Now, while there's nothing wrong with mentally multitasking and being eager to get to the next step, there's also a great deal to be gained from hitting the pause button and focusing on others.

So, what does it mean to "really" listen? Kuzmeski offers several suggestions:

  • In addition to hearing what someone else has said, actively try to understand his or her words in your own way, and ensure that you understand what he or she means. Ask questions to confirm that any assumptions you've made are true.
  • Make sure the speaker has your full attention. Watch for non-verbal cues, stay focused, and don't interrupt.
  • Show that you're listening. Let your face display a range of emotions that reflect that you're paying attention, and acknowledge what the speaker is saying every so often with an "Uh-huh" or a "Sure."
  • Most importantly, remember that you're there for the speaker, not the other way around. Your job isn't to jump to conclusions or one-up the other person with a story of your own!

"Because so few people truly practice the art of listening, it's the most effective way to make lasting connections with others," confirms Kuzmeski. "Being a good listener sets you apart! It makes you very likeable because others will feel comfortable and valuable when they're with you. Cultivating this skill will bring you satisfied customers, content employees, and trusting supervisors. Guaranteed."

Make emotional connections. When getting to know a client or coworker, try to understand where that person is coming from as completely as you can. Kuzmeski calls this technique asking "heart questions." For example, if you are a financial advisor, instead of simply presenting a numbers-based plan, you might first ask questions about your prospect's family: How many children does she have? What is her personality like? How does she handle money?

"By connecting emotionally with people, you open up a line of trust that causes them to want to work with you," explains Kuzmeski. "And the more you know about your clients, coworkers, leaders, etc., the better you'll be able to provide them with exactly what they need from you."

Be referable. (And if you're not, find out why.) When your clients are reasonably satisfied with your services, they ought to agree to endorse you to others or give a positive review to your boss. So why don't they do it?

If you're not currently receiving the amount of referrals or positive feedback you'd like, don't assume that you're not referable. Chances are, there is simply a disconnect between you and your clients or customers. In order to develop the kind of customer loyalty that lasts forever and acts as your most valuable marketing tool, your company must be the type that is visible and credible in the eyes of customers – and it must always exceed their expectations.

"Develop a 'Client Delight Survey' that covers every detail of the client's experience," suggests Kuzmeski. "This works for everyone from entrepreneurs to employees at large organizations. Use the survey to ask about a client's perception of quality of communication, time spent on the project, response to problems or setbacks, willingness to go the extra mile, and what stood out. It sounds simple, but if you take this feedback to heart, you'll gain awareness of directions you can take for increasing referrals and positive feedback from clients. Moreover, your clients will feel that you've truly taken time to form a relationship with them, and they'll want to tell everyone else about how unique you are!"

"Connecting takes time, it takes effort, and it means putting others before yourself," Kuzmeski states. "For introverts, it can be a more difficult task than for their more talkative counterparts. But once you begin truly connecting with others, you won't regret it. Your relationships will be more prolific and rewarding, and you will be more successful. Don't let yourself settle for a position on the fringes when you could dwell at the epicenter of productivity and success ... even now!"

About the author:
Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA is author of The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, September 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8, $22.95). Creating strong business relationships has been the focus of Kuzmeski's business and career. Her book, The Connectors, is packed full of tools and techniques aimed at helping readers develop better, more profitable connections – tools and techniques proven effective by some of the world's most successful professionals.

Maribeth is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. Maribeth has personally consulted with some of the world's most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and professionals. An internationally recognized speaker, she shares the tactics that businesspeople use today to create more sustainable business relationships, sales, and marketing successes.

Maribeth is a regular media contributor appearing on and in FOXNews, ABC News, WGN-TV, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur and Forbes. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and has an MBA from The George Washington University.

About the book:

The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life(Wiley, September 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8, $22.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, visit www.redzonemarketing.comand www.theconnectorsbook.com