Putting the “real” in relationships

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How many Facebook friends do you have? How many LinkedIn connections? Twitter followers? Business cards?

Now let me ask you this. Out of all those connections, how many do you know well? How many of them would you recognize on the street? What do you know about their families? Their stories?

These days it’s all too easy to fall in the trap of calculating our personal worth, our influence, our place in the world by literally counting. How many of us have caught ourselves counting how many people saw, liked or shared our posts? Complaining, “that was the best post ever—why did only three people like it!?” Endorsing people on LinkedIn for skills you don’t really know about?

The thing is, we’re learning that number of connections, of Facebook likes or Twitter followers, doesn’t even amount to much in the business world. We’re learning that it doesn’t matter how many people “saw” a post. It’s about how people engage with it—the conversations that spin out of it. How it affects people, motivates them, changes them. Read Ed Keller and Brad Fay’s book The-Face-to-FaceBook for case studies of social media fails and the power of honest relationships to revive even large-scale business plans.

So what do we do instead? How do we move towards looking at our relationships in terms of quality instead of quantity? To put it another way: how do we move towards putting the “real” back in “relationships”?

It’s a matter of both attitude and action. Here are a few examples to get you thinking. Disclaimer: they’re not rocket science.

Three attitudes:

Respect. Remember and acknowledge that each person has something going for them. My dad was a fairly high-level government guy. One of my most vivid memories is how he answered the phone when someone from work called on the weekends. No matter who it was—the governor, a reporter, an assistant or a janitor (and yes, he was friends with every janitor)—he always began with “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” when he picked up the phone. And he sustained this attitude throughout the conversation.

Honesty. Be true in what you say, open and honest and relaxed whenever possible. When you pay someone a compliment, make it specific and true—not just the blanket “you’re a rock star” that they hear you call seven other people that day, but “that report was really thorough; those figures were gave me just what I needed for next week’s presentation. Thanks!” When your attitude is one of openness and honesty, people can see it in your eyes. Your body language. They’ll trust you, be loyal to you, and work harder for you.

Selflessness. This doesn’t mean endless sacrifice. But all of us can afford to act selflessly some of the time, when it’s the right thing to do. Do something nice for another just because, with no hidden agenda or expectation of payback. And guess what? It WILL come back to you. Maybe not on your schedule, not in the way you might expect, but it will come back.

But you have to do more than just think about it. Here are three actions to take:

Connect in person. Next time you start writing email to your colleague on the other side of your cubicle—you know this happens!–think, “maybe I could get up and SEE them.” Next time you message a friend on Facebook, invite them to meet for real, for coffee or lunch or a walk. The time you set aside—and the five bucks for coffee–is priceless to the relationship.

Listen carefully. Put down your phone, put away your to-do list. Don’t interrupt, don’t assume you know what someone’s about to say. Don’t compose your answer before they’re done talking. Make eye contact. Take in their facial expression and body language. Reflect back what they say to you. Ask follow-up questions. Aim to really understand what they’re saying.

Follow through. Hold yourself accountable for your actions. Fulfill commitments you make. When you say, “There’s this book you need to read… I’ll email you the title,” do it! When you say, “I’ll send you the name of the dentist my wife loves…” do it! When you say, “let’s go to that meeting together next month—I’ll send you the info…” you know the drill.

Yes, real-ationships take time, energy, focus, commitment. In short, they’re work. But they’re so worth it. Cultivating lasting, trusting real-ationships makes for healthier, happier, more productive individuals, communities and businesses. It might even help achieve world peace.

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