03 Jan The #1 Change to Make this year
In 2013 I issued my first ever year-long challenge to readers: to dramatically and intentionally improve your listening skills, one month at a time. It was the #1 change to make in 2013. This year, we’re going to take the challenge up a level and focus on dramatically improving your skill and confidence in building relationships.
This competency gets an absurd amount of lip service in comparison to the actual degree to which it’s practiced. Yet without exception, the most successful and happy people with whom I’ve worked all focus ongoing attention on building relationships.
As with 2013, I’m breaking it down into 12 new habits, one for each month. We’ll take it in these bite-sized pieces so that you can get completely comfortable with each one before adding the next. Ready? Let’s go!
January: Focus, focus, focus. Since this is a developmental process, we’re going to target it. Make a list of no more than ten people with whom you want to build stronger relationships in 2014. This is important, because the list will be the basis for our work. Let’s call them your Treasured Ten.
Include at least one person who isn’t in a position to help you nearly as much as you can help him or her. This is good generosity karma. Also include people who are in a position to help you as much as you can help them, so you don’t get stretched too thin. This is good self-preservation karma!
Why no more than ten people in total? We want a number you can stick with for a whole year, applying each month’s challenge to each relationship, and more than ten can get mighty cumbersome when you’re working on new habits and skills. You may find that as the year goes on, you remove some names, and perhaps add others in their place. That’s o.k. Situations change, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
February: Set a simple goal and metric for each relationship, or to keep it super-simple, one over-arching goal and one metric for the whole process. What gets measured gets managed. How will you know you are strengthening each relationship? What signs will indicate this? Those signs can be your metrics. You’re not measuring product performance; this metric can be soft and still be useful to you!
March: Arrange to see each of your Treasured Ten in person, preferably over coffee or a meal. That’s right, I want you to kick it old school and see your Treasured Ten face-to-face. If you are not in the same geography and don’t expect to travel soon, set up a Skype call. Learn what challenges they’re facing, what they’re excited about, and what they need. Share your own challenges and what you’re excited about, too. Be sure to use open-ended questions, which are questions that can’t be answered in one word.
April: Take at least one action to help out each person. If you’re unsure if something you have in mind would be welcome, ask. It can be an action that only takes 5 – 10 minutes, or maybe it’s something bigger. Great relationship-builders create a huge “bank balance” of goodwill long before they ask for anything in exchange. If you have issues with over-helping, this will be a tougher one to manage, but you must master this, because generosity and selflessness are hallmarks of successful people. They are not stingy with their help. They don’t hold it close to the vest. They worry very little about getting screwed, because they know that for every one person who will take advantage, there are 100 who won’t, and the 100 are well worth the rotten experience of the one jerk.
May: Introduce them to people who can help them, or have a mutual interest, or ideally, complementary needs. You’ll need to develop the habit of always asking yourself who might like to meet whom in order to catch the best opportunities for your Treasured Ten.
June: Keep every single commitment to them, even the teeny tiny ones. For example, when I get going in a creative meeting with a client, I sometimes lose track of some of the follow-ups that were discussed, but maybe not committed. I decided to stop being too embarrassed to ask and instead, starting sending a follow-up email asking for their recollection of how we left it.
By “teeny tiny” commitments, I mean things like following up even when you don’t absolutely have to, but you said you would, even if it was over your shoulder as you walked away. For example, I sometimes meet with near-strangers who want my advice, because a lovely client has requested it. Each time, I say to the near-stranger, “All I ask is that you follow up and let me know how it went. Will you do that?” One hundred percent of them commit to do this, emphatically. Approximately two percent of these people actually do it. The others disappear. The 98% go down in my esteem. The two percent rise.
July: Think of your Treasured Ten beyond the main environment in which you know them. For example, does one of them have a child who’s starting to look into colleges that provide the best education for a particular major? Ask friends in your network who hire in that profession which schools they would recommend and why. Share the information, but only share names and contact information with permission.
August: Donate your money to their causes, assuming it’s a cause you’re comfortable supporting. Anyone who’s ever volunteered for a charity walk-a-thon or community fundraiser knows how much effort goes into getting people to sponsor them and put money in their bucket. Start setting aside some money to support those who are willing to dedicate their limited free time to a good cause, even the people who aren’t your Treasured Ten. The timing of these requests can be hard to anticipate, so with money set aside, you’ll be ready from this month onward.
September: Repeat the month of March. Call each person or arrange to see him or her in person, preferably over coffee or a meal, or via Skype if you live far apart. While it may not be feasible to see every person you’d like to see twice a year, it’s certainly worth the investment to make sure you see your Treasured Ten this often. If you’ve seen all of them recently, congratulations! You can kick back this month and just continue your habits from the other previous months.
October: Write a recommendation on each person’s LinkedIn profile. Granted, you can’t do this if you haven’t worked together, but perhaps there’s something else you can do in fifteen minutes or less that’s a good deed for their business or career. Write a Yelp review for their local business. Buy their product and if you like it, share your enthusiasm on the appropriate social media. You get the idea.
November: Be there when it’s tough. Over the course of a career, everyone has ups and downs, and some of them are very dramatic. When one of your Treasured Ten suffers a big blow (professional or personal, or both), many, many people will scatter. Don’t be one of those people. In fact, come in a little closer. Do what you can to help, even if it’s as small as continuing to meet up for coffee. Granted, tough times can come any time, not just in the month of November, but I had to put this somewhere. In the season of Thanksgiving, be thankful you can be there to support them.
December: Think of something you appreciate about this relationship, and share it with the other person. For example, whenever a client is the inspiration for a Traveling Light column, I let him or her know. They often have a great time reading the article and seeing how I’ve disguised their identity. I’ve placed this habit in December because it is when we are most likely to reflect back on the year and think of these moments, but you can also do it as the situation arises.
Remember to take it in baby steps, adding one technique to your relationship-building toolkit every month. By 2014, you’ll be closer to ten wonderful people, and you’ll reap the rewards of personal and professional satisfaction.
Let me know how it goes in the comments below.