Tuesday, April 26, 2005

WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND: Why relationships matter in business

Building good relationships can ensure business successOne of the lessons which those of us who are conflict management or negotiation trainers seek to reinforce is the notion that it pays to be honorable and trustworthy in our interactions with others. In other words, it is possible to be an effective negotiator and still be a nice guy at the same time.

But people frequently operate under the mistaken belief that if they don’t want to be taken advantage of in a conflict or at the bargaining table or even in life in general, they need to be rude, overbearing jerks.

Being a jerk, however, is generally not an effective strategy in human interaction. It’s a really small world not matter how big we like to think it is. We simply never know when we’re going to cross paths with someone again.

And while people often remember acts of kindness, fairness, or generosity, they never, ever forget when they’ve been treated badly. (If you don’t believe me, just ask any group of people to describe their worst customer service experience—people will outdo themselves in recounting their stories of personal humiliation and outrage at the hands of maitre d’s, store clerks, cab drivers, airline ticket counter attendants, etc. In fact, you won’t be able to get them to shut up.)

It is true that memories of nasty and brutish encounters come back readily when summoned, with all the visceral impact and vividness that they possessed at the moment of their occurrence.

Although less likely to provoke the depth of emotion that these negative memories produce, memories of positive interactions with our fellow human beings possess a certain compelling and luminous quality of their own. These memories are every bit as enduring.

That both these kinds of memories persist is important, especially when you stop to consider how connected all of us are, and that often there are far fewer than six degrees of separation that stand between us and a chance encounter.

Recently I had a chance encounter of my own that brought all of this home—one of those moments that reinforces the beliefs that I hold as a conflict resolution practitioner.

I had a meeting at the offices of a business with which I have been negotiating. One of their managers welcomed me warmly when I arrived and introduced themselves to me. I realized with surprise that it was someone I knew from one of my first jobs straight out of college more than two decades ago. I identified myself, explained where we had met before, and the two of us had a joyous reunion as we discussed people and places I hadn’t thought about in 20 years.

I had fond memories of this person at this job long ago—they had treated me with great kindness, taking me under their wing, and offering me encouragement and good humor at times I needed them most. It was great to be able to tell this person after all those years how much that encouragement and compassion had meant to me at a time when I was fresh out of school, totally inexperienced, and new to the corporate world.

The manager then told our story to the senior executive I was there to meet with. And it led to a discussion at the meeting of the great value in developing and maintaining relationships with the people with whom we work and do business. And as a result the meeting with the executive resulted in a solid foundation for moving forward. On some deep level, that connection had made a difference to the meeting's outcome.

This was one of those moments when you realize just how very small the world is and how sometimes, without knowing it, we come full circle and arrive at the places and the people where we began.

It is this connectedness that is critical. It stands as the foundation of our ability to create bonds with others. Relationships do matter, whether in families, neighborhoods, or in business. Our capacity to connect, to network, to establish ties, build trust, address conflicts, and problem-solve differences, determines our likelihood of success in business and work—and everywhere else in our lives.