The art of building relationships, and why it matters.

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people”

Theodore Roosevelt

In today’s connected world, those who get ahead tend to be those able to forge strong relationships both personally and professionally. The problem is that this ability doesn’t come naturally to all people. Some of us are introverts and can often find social situations challenging.

There is plenty of advice out there with more appearing online and in print daily. That said, it’s something that was written a very long time before even my parents were born, that I found to be rather helpful.

“How to make friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie was first published in the 1930s, but much of the advice whuch it offers is still relevant today. 

The book gets a lot of mixed reviews, but this depends on how you approach and understand it. If you experience a level of anxiety in social situations or would like help in networking or forging professional relationships, you will be introduced to some techniques that could make meeting new people a little easier.

Critics argue that there are techniques introduced which could be viewed as manipulation but I disagree. You will read about ways in which you could influence others, but there is also an underlying emphasis on being respectful, sympathetic and genuine in your approach to others. The aim is to forge a relationship or exchange value with another person, not to take advantage of them.

It’s an easy read, dated in places and if nothing else, will give you some timeless advice to reflect on and experiment with. As with everything else which could potentially help you in your personal or professional development, any success really depends on whether you are prepared to adopt some of the approaches and see where they lead.

Good communication and interpersonal skills are essential for forging relationships with people, and here is what has worked well for me;

  • Listening. When somebody is speaking, actually listen to what they are saying. Rather than waiting for them to stop talking so that you can make your next point, make a real effort to understand what they are saying. This will lead to richer conversations.
  • Empathy. Try putting yourself in another’s shoes, so that you might better understand their views or needs.
  • Give. All to often people enter into conversations with others as a way of seeing what value they can get from them. Be different, and aim to give to others without expecting anything in return, even if that just be advice. This will help build trust with others and could lead to an exchange of value for both of you.

 Any time devoted to improving your interpersonal skills and ability to interact effectively with others is undoubtedly time well spent.

Why are we still so quick to label and judge people?!

As a society we are still too quick to label people and judge others. As discussed in the last post on judgement, this can lead to missed opportunities for learning, development and discovery. The worst part of this is that it is all completely avoidable. Humans are not robots made the same way in the same factory, but we are all individuals. In our own way, we are all unique but when we come together and share our experiences and knowledge, the world becomes a much richer place. We must, however, set aside our judgements and preconceptions in order to approach people with an open mind if this is to happen.

Recently, while re-reading 2 excellent novels, it dawned on me that there is one paricular group of people who have so much to offer but are being held back by the labels, judgements and limitations which society places on them.

The two novels in question are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes. While the stories and settings are very different, both novels are narrated by teenage boys on the Autism Spectrum and provide a fascinating insight into how they both make sense of the world. In The Eagle Tree, the narrator March Wong is described as being autistic, but in The Curious Incident it isn’t clearly stated. There is no label attached to Christopher John Francis Boone in the latter, but it is hinted that this may be Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism. Christopher, though, just describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”.

I won’t bore you with my attempt at a book review, as there are already a number of excellent reviews available online, but I would rather share with you what I came to realise through these novels. Both novels, while raising awareness of what life is like on the Autism Spectrum, primarily deal with perception and how we view the world and the people in it. March Wong and Christopher Boone are both very gifted, highly skilled and intelligent teenage boys, with an incredible amount of self-awareness. Reading both novels, I couldn’t help but wonder just how much each of the boys would have to offer in the real world, and whether they would be given a chance.

Of course, the novels are fictional, but the issues and questions which they raise are very real and relevant. The stories of Christopher and March show us the dangers of labelling and judging people. In the real world, we don’t get the same insight into a person’s thoughts and feelings that we do when we read a novel. I have yet to meet anybody who walks around narrating their daily life out loud. The only way we get to know, and better understand other people is through communicating with them and understanding them.

Herein lies the problem. Instead of approaching all others with an open mind as to where an interaction may lead, we are still too quick to label and judge other people before deciding whether to speak to them. People are labelled throughout their lives, particularly at school. These labels which are placed on them, and the ones which they choose for themselves, have a lasting impact. How many people have the potential to really make a chance in business or philanthropy, but instead find themselves held back by the labels and judgements placed on them?!

Each and every one of us is the same, and by same I mean human. A person’s mind and their view of the world is shaped by the influences that they are exposed to early in life, and the influences which they choose later in life. Some people, however¬† view and experience the world differently and they should be embraced rather than marginalised. By approaching all people with the same open mind, tolerance and understanding we can gain perspective and so much more.

We all have unique personalities, but unfortunately some of us get labelled, judged and cast aside. This just begs the question, why not celebrate the individual and the unique and varied gifts, talents, abilities, skills and views which they have? There is an incredible amount which we can learn from each other, if we only embrace others rather than label or judge.

Simply put, our attitudes and perceptions need to change. Rather than label another person and jump to preconceived notions or conclusions, treat them instead with empathy and try to understand them. Just because somebody experiences and views the world differently to you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from each other, and help each other. Who knows where life may lead you when you approach other people with an open mind?!

The lost art of listening

The ability to communicate effectively with people from all backgrounds is an essential ingredient for living a fulfilled life. Good communication skills help us to form and maintain relationships, both personally and professionally. They help us to exchange value with others. The better able we are to communicate with others, the stronger our relationships will become. In business, an effective communicator will often have a distinct advantage over his or her lesser-able competitors. Furthermore, if you are a jobseeker, the majority of job adverts you encounter will list excellent communication skills as an essential requirement for the role.

Today, I would like to look at one communication skill in particular; listening. Personally, I regard listening as the most important of these skills because it forms the basis of every successful interaction which we have. Done properly, it helps us to better understand the views of others and identify ways in which we can help and support each other. The problem is that somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to listen.

Nowadays, people no longer listen to understand. Perhaps we are just too busy, and effective listening does take time, after all, so we cut corners. People will nod and smile as their counterpart speaks, but very little is actually understood. The tendency is to simply wait for the other person to stop talking, and then carry on with what they had prepared to say. Instead of paying attention to what the other person is actually saying, most will simply be thinking about what they will say next, as soon as there is a break in the conversation. So many opportunities are missed to learn from others or offer help whenever this happens. Even worse, our relationships suffer.

When you find yourself in a conversation and it’s time to listen, put aside what you want to say next, and make the effort to understand what the other person is saying. Stop thinking about where you want to lead the conversation but listen to, and understand the other person. Let the conversation flow naturally. ¬†This will lead to many more positive interactions with others, which can in turn open the door to new and exciting opportunities. Your personal relationships will be strengthened too, as you develop a deeper understanding of your friends and family.

Listening, when done right, is all about understanding. So, next time someone is speaking to you, pay attention. Rather than focusing on the points which you want to make or what you want to achieve, put your ego and your own agenda to one side and let the conversation flow. You never know, it might take you somewhere new and exciting, which wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t paying attention.

Be kind online

We live in a digital, connected, age and more of our lives are being spent online. For a growing number of people, this is their main source of communication, information or entertainment.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is a wonderful thing, and opens the door to an incredible amount of opportunities and experiences. There is, however, a dark side of which we need to be aware. Thankfully, with a little effort, we can do something about it. 

The problem stems from how we regard the time we spend online. For some it provides a space in which they can take a break from their daily lives and adopt a new persona, in effect becoming someone else. In person someone might be polite and respectful, only to adopt an online alter ego through which they vent their pent-up frustration anonymously. It”s the lack of empathy in these online interactions which is worrying.

It”s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment but we must always strive to treat others with respect. Regardless of whether we are communicating and interacting with them online or in person. Growing up, we are taught to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated. It is now more important than ever that we remind ourselves of this.

We all have the power to brighten up the world around us and to bring happiness, but it is through our interactions with others that we can achieve this.

We all have frustrations and annoyancestors which build within us, but there are better outlets for this, such as exercising or spending time outdoors in nature. 

Our ultimate aim should be to leave a positive impression on everyone with whom we interact. It is simply not possible to do this every single time, but that does not mean that we should not at least try. We should aim to;

  • Be mindful that there is a real person on the other end of every interaction or conversation. You are communicating with a human being who has feelings which can be hurt by your angry comments.
  • In your online interactions, only say that which you would be prepared to say in person, if the two of you were to meet.
  • Be yourself (unless, of course, you are an entertainer, actor, comedian, musician…). Drop the alter-ego and just be you. This opens the door for genuine interactions which could lead to wonderful new places.
  • Be kind. You have no idea what demons others are fighting, and how much of a positive impact they might experience after some positivity or encouragement from you.

One thing, above all, worth bearing in mind is the permanence of our online interactions. Increasingly,  a prospective client, employer, business partner or date will turn to Google and carry out a quick search of our name in order to get a feel for who we are before meeting in person. So don’t sabotage your future success by saying something online, just to vent your frustratons,  which you would never say in person.

Storytelling and why it matters

Long before recorded history, early humans communicated through cave paintings and oral storytelling. Throughout the ages, however, the method of storytelling has evolved from cave paintings to songs to novels, movies, social media and everything in-between. In spite of this, the art of storytelling has withstood the test of time and evolution, because it is our greatest communication tool and remains as important as ever.

Why is storytelling still so relevant?

Humans are social creatures and through stories, we learn how to relate to other people and empathise with them. They are an intrinsic part of societies and cultures, with each story serving a purpose, from entertaining to informing to conveying a message to changing attitudes and behaviours.

A good story has the power to surprise us and give us food for thought, and will stay with us, making it easier to relate to and remember ideas and concepts. Done well, a good story can help you to connect with someone on a deeper, more emotional level, giving them a reason to empathise or care.

In order to tell a good story, it helps if you are a good storyteller. A good storyteller gets attention, and people will listen to what they have to say. This is one of the reasons why the art of storytelling is gaining importance in the business arena. More than just another tool for marketing and sales, businesses can benefit greatly from the ability to tell good stories. Externally, a good story can increase a company’s reputation and reach, while helping prospective clients to better understand the company and its ethos, vision and people. Internally, there are also a number of benefits, from helping to build or reinforce a company’s culture to connecting colleagues in new and meaningful ways.

In an increasingly competitive employment and labour market, the ability to tell good stories is becoming an increasingly desirable skill to possess.

What is your story?