Client relationships can be a navigational challenge. In the old white-collar, “Mad Men” kind of world, we used to label them as your “professional” relationships. Today, when many entrepreneurs, freelancers or remote teams work whenever and wherever their smartphones catch a connection, line between work and life is blurred. So is the line between your personal and professional contacts.
LinkedIn surveyed 15,905 of their users across 17 countries to put some numbers behind the rising importance of relationships that all of us have been experiencing, and 61% of respondents agreed “that regular online interaction with their professional network can lead to the way in to possible job opportunities.” And 35% said they had scored some new opportunities from the casual interactions through the social platform.
Anyone can become an essential contact for your business, including the person sitting next to you in a co-working space or on a long flight. And, since we left formalities of the business meetings behind, all that’s left is making the connection as you are: human-to-human, bare and authentic.
How do you use your emotional intelligence (EQ) so that serendipitous acceptances one day become your dream clients? Do you dare to open up and show up as you are with your “professional contacts”?
1. Understand your own emotions.
Looking at yourself might not be the first thing to cross your mind, as for many years, salespeople and businessmen were brought up with a “know your customer” religion. Undoubtedly, you won’t go far without knowing the needs and emotions of the one in front of you. But I want to get this first: Understanding the other starts from understanding yourself.
This is probably the difference between making a one-time sale and creating lifelong relationships. Relationships are two-sided, so knowing your own emotions first is essential to showing up as your authentic self for this conversation.
It would be hard to bring your best into a conversation if, behind the scenes, you are battling a loss, struggling with an important decision or feeling brought down by something that did not go according to plan. You don’t have to pour your soul out in every conversation you engage in, but just being aware and honest with yourself makes a difference in how you show up in the world.
2. Demonstrate empathy, just as your mom taught you.
Often regarded as a soft skill at the end of your resume, empathy is making its way to the front lines as companies discover the correlation between their leaders’ ability to empathize, the team’s productivity and even profit. Business Insider shares this statistic: “71% Of Millennials Want Their Co-Workers To Be A ‘Second Family.’” Caring isn’t just for millennials, and it’s certainly not only for the workplace.
Listen with an open mind, without interrupting, and ask questions if you are meeting someone for the first time. If it’s an existing relationship, it’s essential to do what mom taught you: Be there for another person’s wins and losses. Presence is the key.
3. Build trust through vulnerability.
Traditionally seen as a sign of weakness in some cultures, but recently named “the Boldest Act of Business Leadership” by Entrepreneur, vulnerability might still feel uncomfortable for many. Imagine openly sharing your business wins as well as mistakes with someone who has a potential of becoming your client — it’s not what they teach you in business schools.
You don’t have to open the conversation by listing your failures, but if someone is vulnerable enough to share about their tough moments, you can tell them how you’ve been through a similar experience. That instantly shifts your relationships to one of two equals, leveling each other up.
In “The Neuroscience of Trust,” Paul J. Zak shared his findings that, on the chemical level, trust was indicated by an increase in oxytocin, which we know can decrease stress levels. Whatever business you are in, people often associate a new deal or partnership with uncertainty and you want to bring a feeling of trust into the relationship.
4. Pay it forward.
Give value or serve first to create bonds and long-lasting impressions. This can be profound if implemented without any expectations and just sheer kindness. As we already know, client relationships can be built from lines at the grocery store to messages on social media.
I started doing this in my practice with clients and executives. It often began with listening to a person and suggesting a few exercises I thought could be useful in their situation: to work out team challenges within a business or mindset strategies for an entrepreneur. As you teach and give generously, not only are you adding value but also providing your credibility and long-term trust for client relationships. You never know when a potential client from three years ago may reach out simply because of that one idea you provided them years back, and now they are ready to work with you. This is the beauty of paying it forward.
5. Know your type.
With an overwhelming amount of research on human personalities, it might be wise to instantly decide which kind of person is in front of you. A few distinct characteristics can help you understand just the right way to conduct your conversation with someone.
You’ll win a lot from understanding the other person’s primary channels of receiving, organizing and processing information. When your relationships come to the point of discussion of business, you want to be able to capitalize on the trust you’ve built. What is the best way for them to learn about your offer? Do they need to read it though? Do they need to have a conversation with you (or someone else) in which they get to express all the doubts? Or are they a quick-to-move, try-it-and-then-decide kind of person?
Finally, circling back to knowing yourself, your business relationships can only go as far as you’ve grown. This might sound disempowering, but I hope that you can already hear that what it’s trying to say: There is no limit to how high you’ll fly.