The innate social disposition of the human being necessitates that long-term and sustainable success is predicated on the extent of healthy relationships with other people. Different individuals may have different social inclinations as well as ‘needs’ for different extents of interactions with others. However, what is incontestable is that we are all ultimately needy of certain minimum healthy social relationships if we are to develop and grow normally. Many psychological disorders are indeed traced to unhealthy relationships at some stages in victims’ lives.
Interestingly, the deeper and/or wider the social role placed upon or taken on by us, the more we need to ensure that we maintain healthy social relationships with people around us and even those we come in touch for fleeting seconds. It is on record that people have either been fundamentally motivated by some few seconds of interactions with someone and similarly hurt by someone else in few seconds of contact.
As an entrepreneur, you will typically be under increasing and sustained pressure from different sources. Not just for the success of your business but also for your personal sanity, you need to deliberately make conscious effort to keep healthy relationships with everyone that you are in contact or may get in contact with.
What are the features of healthy relationships?
Relationships have purposes: The purpose of a relationship determines what happens within it. Generally, healthy relationships are always built on some sincere desire, willingness and commitment to serve and be served. It is about creating values the sum of which is far greater than what each party alone can create individually. This is applicable regardless of the type of the relationship.
It could be formal or informal: Relationships tend to either be formal or informal and some with a shade of each. For all types of relationships, however, effort by all parties is required to nurture it.
It is about contact: Contact is now difficult because we tend to be busy most of the time leaving little room for ‘socialisation’. But it is also ‘easy’ because we can be in touch easily on phone, video calls, etc. Obviously physical, face-to-face contact is the most deepening way of building relationships but even a phone call is good, sometimes even sufficient and better than no contact at all. As we shall see later, regardless of how busy we believe we are, we must make out time for appropriate ‘contact’. It is possible.
What are the circles of relationships?
We all have various circles of relationships. As aforementioned, some are informal whilst others are formal. A few can have features of both. Each group of individuals form some circle or a part of a circle around us. Similarly each individual and group has different rights on us as well as some responsibility to us. Discharging our counterpart responsibility to others is important, sometimes even critical, in helping them discharge theirs to us. Once individuals are able to do what they should, the stage for a lasting and sustainable relationship is set.
Some form of contact is the starting point as well as the key to developing and sustaining relationships. The quality of relationship with an individual or group is nourished by the extent and frequency of true contact we have with them. Below is a typical circles of relationships around us (we are represented as ‘x’ as the concurrent centre).
Each of us can redesign theirs to fit their situation. What is important is to understand the following:
- A circle or a part thereof can compose of members whose relationship with you is formal, informal or a mix of the two,
- Normally, different circles will be at different levels. But it is possible to have more than one circle at the same level. Similarly, it is also possible to have fluid circles that cross each at some point in time,
- Relationship with individuals and groups is dynamic. The acquintance you met at the clubhouse could become your business partner over time, thereby redefining the relationship entirely,
- Members of each circle have their peculiar needs and expectations from as well as rights over you. Even different individuals in the same circle can have different needs, expectations and rights. In return, different individuals and groups also offer you different values,
- Each circle or part thereof has its own ‘width’ and ‘scope’ as respectively represented by the radius (or radial difference) of the circle as well as the length of circumference (or the arc). The areas of each circle or part of it represents the significance of the total relationship to us by the individuals forming that group. (The circles above are only an illustration and not in any way scaled),
- Based on the foregoing, there will always be an optimum frequency, mode, type and depth of contact with individual members of each circle. For some, primary contact might be on phone while for others it would normally be physically. Generally however, it would be a varying mix of several modes of contact. Similarly, contact could be at home, office or at the place of worship, clubhouse, etc. For some, a five minute phone call would suffice whilst for others it should be a five-hour home visit over the weekend.
How do you create, sustain, develop and maintain healthy relationships?
Creating relationships is generally easy. Theoretically, as soon as you are in contact with a person you are actually already in a relationship, even if only transient. Definitely, many transient relations end after the contact. However, what you do at that ‘moment of truth’ will go a long way in impacting the other person as well further developing you as to the kind of person you are or want to be. We are all beneficiaries of those brief but pleasant encounters that we seem to remember forever! If we were to meet the person who gave us that experience again, chances are that they have even forgotten about the encounter. Similarly, we also have been hurt by some other person in brief moments of encounter. The challenge is for us to be able to give others positive experiences even in those brief encounters. But beyond the ten-second-encounters what do we need to do to sustain and develop healthy relationships?:
Be true to yourself and others: There is nothing as psychologically burdening as not being true to yourself and nothing is as hurting to others as not being true to them. The first challenge, therefore, is for you to understand what is in the relationship for all parties and be sure that it will be fair to all. Specifically, you need to focus on yourself and what you do. Of course, depending on the specific relationship you should also expect and if necessary demand that the other party discharges their part of the ‘bargain’ as well.
Communicate well and clearly: That humans are able to talk and speak in languages is ‘nature’s’ way of helping us communicate clearly and unambiguously. Using this faculty to ensure regular and clear communications minimizes misunderstandings that could otherwise cause great human disasters. Where issues need to be written down, don’t hesitate to do so! Where misunderstandings arise discuss openly to amicably resolve them. Healthy ‘confrontation’ is required to remain on track.
There are win-wins in most situations: Unfortunately, unnecessary competition has blurred our minds and sights. Many people do not look for win-win solutions in difficult times. This is usually not so much because such solutions do not exist but because we either refuse to think deeply about possibilities or we let our emotions take the better of us. With the right mindset, even difficult situations can creatively be resolved amicably.
Think long-term: Thinking about the long-term consequences of what we want do has a way of balancing our thinking. On one hand, we can more efficiently increase the level of effort and on the other hand we don’t bother about short-term and temporary inconveniences. In essence, we can focus on the bigger picture.
Mutual respect: The only relationships that stand a chance to thrive are built on mutual respect. Mutual respect is developed by each party striving to discharge their obligations; it is built when parties can individually accept their errors and make amends; it is built on professional expertise, etc. Depending on your situation and role, you should identify areas that will entrench mutual respect with others in your circles of relationships and then act on them.
Understand that each person is different: Another way to help develop and sustain relationships is to realize and accept that each person is different. Don’t just expect that people must be as you are! You have your own weaknesses also and our differences are actually good for all us. Just think about it: If we are all the boisterous and field-oriented marketing executives who will be the quiet, calm and desk-bound accountants that will run the back office? Obviously, we tend to have affinities towards certain types of people. But in reality, most people respond to us depending on how we approach and relate with them. If you don’t ‘recognise’ someone as evil you have reduced their ‘need’ to think of being evil. The way to do this easy to do is to understand people but not to judge them. Exceptions to this might arise in formal settings where it is important to discuss appraisal and development issues with staff. Even in such situations though, there are ways the issues can be discussed professionally and dispassionately for the benefit of all parties.
Time: I have earlier mentioned mutual respect as one of the features of healthy relationships. I need to specifically bring out the imperative of respecting each other’s time as a fundamental key to fostering mutual respect in relationships. From formal to informal relationships, set your standards and thereby help others to set standards for respecting commitments on time. Truth is that other than our lives and health, we have nothing more important and precious than the limited time we have. Take yours seriously; take others’ seriously; and teach others to take theirs and yours seriously too.
You need a contact strategy:
The above should help you develop a strategy for proactive contact that will enable you create and sustain meaningful and healthy relationships. For instance,
- How often should you call and/or meet with your business mentor?
- How often should you call and/or meet with your investors?
- How often should you call and/or visit your customers (regardless of the day-to-day requirements of the business)?
- What is the best time to make a call?
- If you are to meet, where is the best venue for the meeting? etc.
- How do you expand your network of contacts in controlled and sustainable manner?
All the above and more should be very clear in your mind and should form the basis of a creating a disciplined routine. There are some individuals and groups you should be in physical contact with on a daily basis. For others, a daily phone call will suffice. Yet, there will be some you will need to just call on a weekly basis and be able to visit them once in two months. The point is that every relationship has its unstated ‘expectations’. If these clear to you and you sincerely discharge your part, chances are that the others will do their part as well. Obviously, there will always be those ‘difficult fellows’. For some of such people, it is because they haven’t gotten others to relate with them in the right ways. If you understand them and do the right things, they will treat you completely differently from others. For the other ‘difficult’ ones, it is just what they want to do regardless of your own actions. Even in such cases, though, you should strive to do the right thing for yourself and not for them or in expectation of some reciprocation!
At the end of the day, there is nothing that truly defines who we are than the quality of healthy relationships we are able to create and maintain with those within and even those outside our ‘circles of relationships’. Developing relationships are success ends in themselves and also a means to further success in what we consider our ‘primary’ roles. In fact, the truth about the most successful people we see and admire is that, at the bottom of everything else, they are ‘just’ thriving on relationships. The ‘difficult’ part about it is that it needs consciousness, deliberation and sustained effort.