Developing relationships in the business world is an important part of your success. These connections can lead to opportunities in the near or far future — you never know who might help you in your career. And solid, authentic business relationships can persist for a long time, giving you support throughout your working life.
How do you build these important relationships? We checked in with leaders who are part of the Fairygodboss community to find out.
“You foster relationships daily when you interact with other people,” Reneè Zung, a client-focused career services consultant and workshop and webinar facilitator, said. “You can’t force relationships, but you can nurture them through your regular conversations with colleagues and clients inside and outside of the organization.”
Relationships, according to Zung, are all about getting to know someone. And even in the workplace, where, yes, relationships are at least partially “tactical,” they should always be genuine.
This takes time and effort, and it comes more naturally to some than others. Of course, it’s easy to be distracted by emails, meetings and juggling priorities during the day, such that you become absorbed in your work. But, as Zung advises, you should still take a few minutes each day to actively seek out colleagues for collaboration.
“The most effective leaders and employees know that slowing down, listening and being present during the workday goes a long way toward fostering strong relationships,” she said. “Demonstrate strong communication skills by clarifying priorities and organizing projects.”
For example, Zung noted that well-run meetings with clear agendas foster a culture of trust and open communication. “Working together in a productive and professional manner, you will develop a new sense of appreciation for your coworkers and management that, in turn, will develop positive relationships and a sense of community in the workplace,” she explained.
She started hosting these micro-community talks because the networking opportunities that were available to her, both pre-pandemic and during, left her feeling dissatisfied. “They were loud, crowded, with an overwhelming agenda,” she said. “I love meeting people, but I never felt like I could make meaningful connections at happy hour or in a big Zoom room.”
Now, Jannotta hosts weekly roundtables with just four women at a time, with each taking turns answering questions about their work and how they’re working on building their businesses and careers. With everyone getting a turn at the “mic,” participants feel more comfortable voicing their perspectives.
“I've received glowing feedback from the women who've joined these conversations,” Jannotta said, noting the experiences have led to podcast and speaking opportunities, client referrals, new friendships and much more.
“They've helped me expand my network not only widely, but deeply and meaningfully,” Jannotta said. “I highly recommend hosting conversations like this to expand your own!”
“The very best way to start and to build strong relationships is to leave people better and more engaged than you found them originally,” explained Randi Levin, Transitional Life Strategist, Randi Levin Coaching. “Being memorable in relationship building requires consistency and the ability to allow space and grace for people to be themselves.”
How do you make this happen in the real world? Levin does it by “showing up consistently and conversationally.” and making herself a valuable resource, actively looking for ways to help people.
For example, perhaps you know two professionals who you believe could benefit from meeting one another. By connecting them, you’re helping them in their own careers — and, at the same time, furthering your own relationships with these contacts and making a name for yourself as someone who supports and uplifts others. “People like to be around people who elevate, especially those that believe and take action,” Levin explained.
“I look for ways that I can help someone,” said Levin. “I listen to what is being said, as well as to what is not. I offer space to meet, to talk, to collaborate. All of this makes me not only relatable but also inspiring and memorable.”
Levin also advises professionals to be more conversational. “Being memorable by being conversational will not only allow you to stand out in a sea of networking and potential client leads, it will also enable you to be a connector that people want to have on their teams and in their organizations,” she said. “Being the light is at the foundation of self-leadership. You lead others by first leading yourself!”
Tiffany Pittman, owner/content specialist and event manager, Smile Back Girl Productions, makes relationship-building a two-way street. If, for instance, someone asks you to keep them in mind for a specific type of opportunity, make sure to do it. “This is your open door!” Pittman explained. “This is how you can help them and start a relationship.”
Pittman makes a note of anyone seeking out specific opportunities and sends them information or resources when they come her way. She finds that they’re usually surprised and thankful when she does it.
“It's also disarming because you're not asking anything from them,” she added. “They see you as a helpful person.”
This goes beyond simply waiting to hear about opportunities. Pittman shows up when someone holds an event to demonstrate her support. This, in turn, has even brought her job opportunities because people remember her efforts.
Still, Pittman cautioned, you should ignore other elements of relationship-building, like having conversations to get to know people better. “Only do these approaches when it feels right so it won't be forced or disingenuous,” she added. “The person will pop in my mind or I will get inklings to give them something.” She also noted that you shouldn’t expect anything in return. At the very least, you’ll feel good about having helped and supported someone else.
“It does not matter what title HR has given me, which corner or floor my office is on, nor who reports to me,” said Hope Bennett. She doesn’t base her work relationships on who has the best title or rank but on their authentic professional and personal character.
“If who I am isn't worth knowing, trusting, and working beside? Then the relationship has no ground on which to exist,” Bennett said. This is her tactic for promoting real relationships in the workplace. “A truly valuable relationship takes away traditional measures of worth and rewards you with the ability to step up and step out. To speak up and move around. Career development does not come from worshipping ‘industry disruptors’ and poring over books with tacky, edgy titles. That development comes from being instilled with tools, experience, and support provided by leaders. EVERY leader should be a mentor who is passionately open to both offering knowledge and learning.”
At the end of the day? “Remain blind to status and station.”
Sreedevi V., a human resource business partner (HRBP), has firsthand experience with building and maintaining relationships to get work done. She built her network from scratch after moving to Hong Kong six years ago.
“Be open about what you can do — and cannot do — what you want and what you can give,” she said. “You can’t please everyone, and that’s okay! People can quickly sense if someone's being schmoozy. On the other hand, they will respect you for being candid, even if you have to say no. If you want something, ask!”
She also encouraged people to be conscious of the fact that everyone is going through their own journey, and no one knows what someone else is dealing with. That’s why it’s critical to be patient, polite and considerate. But that doesn’t mean you should let people walk all over you.
“Take a firm stand if you think someone's taking advantage, but don't assume that everyone is out to ‘get you’ or everyone's taking advantage,” she said. “Give people the benefit of the doubt until they give you reasons not to.”
At the end of the day, remember that everyone is a person. “Don't treat them as 'contacts' in your address book but real people with real desires and problems. Help when you can, in whatever way you can. It takes time and effort to build trust, and you have to keep showing up as your authentic self.”
Particularly for people who are still working remotely or in a hybrid environments, Meghan Titzer encourages professionals to have standing weekly or biweekly half-hour meetings with colleagues. This is something Titzer started doing during the pandemic, getting to know people she would usually chat with in the hall but who don’t actually report to her.
“We might have large group meetings, but it's hard to catch up privately in those settings,” she explained. “So, the half-hour ‘meetings’ work great, when just the two of us can catch up about life or work or anything else.”
Titzer has had people who previously reported to her and moved onto other teams who set up meetings with her, too, so they could stay in touch and continue the mentoring relationship.
According to Genny Heikka, owner and founder of Her Team Success, this starts with asking questions.
“Instead of approaching a new conversation or meeting with hesitation or fear about what you’re supposed to say, identify a few questions ahead of time that you can ask the other person,” she explained. “This not only takes the pressure off of you and eases that feeling of discomfort that often comes with going into new relationships, but it also shows your genuine interest in the other person.”
When you establish common ground, conversations will flow more freely and you could end up establishing an authentic connection.
Katrina McNair agrees. Even before the pandemic, she tried to establish common ground through networking and at social events. But during the pandemic especially, it’s been an important method of creating bonds during the isolation we’ve all experienced.
“This helps career development by allowing potential employees to open up about their experiences and skills,” she said. “It's a soft way to lead into important questions such as when do you want to work or if you’re able to do so. It also provides information about one's mindset about going back into the office or working a hybrid workweek.”
“Listen to what others are saying, and listen to your own intuition,” Monica Lebsock said. “It's almost never wrong.”
According to Lebsock, the first step is asking for help and “expect you will get the guidance and support that you need in return.” This opens the door and provides the space for growth and career opportunities.
She applies this concept to her personal life as well as her professional life — such as being the friend who encourages others not to feed into the drama. “If someone is draining your energy and picking arguments with you, maybe it's time to reassess the relationship,” she said.
“Investing in healthy, whole, and fruitful relationships is key to investing in ourselves and ensuring high quality of life,” she added. “As we grow and evolve, it is up to us to choose to be mindful of how our relationships are affecting us.”
Ellysa Smith, CELEB (Curator Engagement Lightkeeper for Exquisite Beings) and HR Manager at a nonprofit, emphasizes the importance of building relationships.
“Meaningful relationships are an opportunity to exchange ideas or thoughts,” she said. “They’re supposed to be mutually beneficial.” That’s why she embraces the concept of giving in professional relationships.
While it can be challenging, approaching networking from the mindset of what you can offer the other person, not what they can do for you, will lead to opportunities for you to learn and grow.
She encourages professionals to reach out to check in with acquaintances about what they need from you.
“If you set aside that time for cultivation of relations with others, you will soon see that more opportunities come your way — a speaking opportunity, a chance to coach, a mentorship, a collaboration,” she said. “The possibilities are endless. It’s when you have given more to others that you experience the happiness of receiving. Your career development will naturally soar because of the trust you have established with others."