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Soft skills: How to master relationship-building
Want to build stronger personal relationships with colleagues, partners, and customers? Focus on these five soft skill areas
In the digital transformation age, organizations that focus on human interaction and relationship-building – both internally among staff and externally with customers, clients, and vendors – will be the ones that dominate in their industries.
But no one is born with a rapport-building gene. And not everyone is inclined to be outgoing or to strike up conversations with people they don’t know. The environment you grow up in plays a big part in how you act: If your parents were extremely outgoing, for example, you may be more likely to behave similarly. But even if your early influencers skewed more on the shy side, relationship-building can be developed and mastered.
[ How does your EQ stack up? Read also: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ]
To master relationship-building and develop strong relationships, focus on the following five characteristics:
People have great BS detectors. Your interest in others and your desire to make a connection must be authentic. If you ask questions just for the sake of appearance, just to make a sale, or to turn the conversation back to yourself, people will see through you. Not being authentic will earn you a poor reputation. You’re much better served by simply asking for what you want. People will respect you more.
Instead of trying to manipulate people into buying products or services, show them you care. Demonstrate that you’re genuinely interested in them and that you realize that they’re human beings with lives, not just customers to whom you’re trying to sell.
The strongest relationship-builders are extremely curious. They love to learn about others and their experiences, and their curiosity extends to both familiar and unfamiliar topics. They become investigative reporters, wanting to learn as much as possible about other people’s lives and passions. They truly enjoy learning and exploring what makes human beings tick.
There’s a lot more to being a good listener than simply letting another person talk. You need to be attentive and patient, make good eye contact, not interrupt, ask probing questions, and take the time to process what you heard before responding. A good listener will clarify what they heard, energize the speaker to elaborate, and then expand on what was said.
[ Do you make thoughtful decisions? Read also: 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide. ]
One of our strongest human talents is the ability to empathize with another person’s situation. Seeing and understanding an experience from someone else’s perspective is key. That ability is essential for making connections and building relationships. Employees who can look at a situation from the customer’s perspective are best able to assure their customers that they are understood and appreciated.
5. Appreciation for people
No one is perfect – everyone has flaws. But everyone has unlimited potential. Human beings are incredibly complex. Everyone has a story about their life’s journey – what they’ve overcome, their accomplishments, their talents, fears, regrets, and dreams. The fun is discovering these stories. When you’re able to develop a love of humans for their own sake, you’re truly able to serve people. Your goal should not be about making money or getting customers to do what you want, but to take care of their needs and desires.
Forging strong relationships relies on all these skills – being interested in someone else’s life, truly listening, and practicing empathy. These are the building blocks of the relationship economy. Its primary currency is made up of the connections and trust among customers, employees, and vendors, and it creates significantly more value in what we sell. These relationships and connections make price less relevant.
[ There’s nothing optional about soft skills, writes Dan Roberts. Read also: Goodbye soft skills, hello core skills: Why IT must rebrand this critical competency. ]