Malcolm Forbes, the American entrepreneur and publisher of the world-renowned Forbes magazine, once said: “Diversity is the art of thinking independently, together.”
As a nation, we have been striving for decades to make our diverse cultural, religious and racial backgrounds a source of strength instead of a point of contention.
Most Malaysians would agree that this is a good way forward. Perhaps that’s why we even have a National Unity and Integration Department in the Prime Minister’s Office. And there are numerous government and quasi government agencies that actively advocate this ideology.
At the workplace, the same principles of unity and integration have to be created.
In order to achieve any measure of success at work, you must have the ability to work with a diverse group of people. And this happens only when you can develop and sustain relationships with them.
Through experience, I know that you must be able to understand and have empathy with your co-workers.
If you want a colleague or your boss to do something for you, you must have a strong relationship with them. No one is willing to go the extra mile for you if you are not connected with them. Or even worse, they could dislike you as you have not bothered to show you are interested in building a relationship with them.
Real success is impossible without building great relationships. And this is impossible to achieve unless you treat other people with kindness, regard and respect.
There is a saying — “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”. As cliched as this may sound, there is much truth in this statement.
I find that being genuinely helpful is the first step in building solid relationships with others.
It’s easy to help when you’re asked. Most people will. But very few people offer help before they have been asked, even though most of the time that is when a little help will have the greatest impact.
People who have the capacity to build remarkable relationships with others develop a sense and feel of when someone is struggling or is experiencing stressful situations.
They then step in and offer help. But rather than be passive about it by asking if they could help, they would actually come up with specific solutions.
Instinctively, many people say no to offers of help because they don’t want to trouble others, or end up being beholden to someone, or simple because they are just embarrassed.
When specific support is offered, you will find that you can get past this reflexive resistance.
I also find that successful people offer help not because they want to specifically build a relationship with someone. They do it just because they care.
The ensuing result of this caring attitude is the development of a strong relationship.
The next step to building good relationships with people is by paying attention to them.
By this, I don’t just mean that you should be observant.
When dealing with people whom you want to build a relationship with, don’t take things at face value. Frequently, people will say things or ask a question different to the one they really want your opinion about.
A person you work with might ask whether they should enrol in a postgraduate programme when what they really want to talk about is a change of direction in their career.
In my business life, I have had a partner asking me how a meeting went with a potential customer when in fact, he had wanted to discuss his diminished role in decision-making in the enterprise.
Behind these simple questions are larger concerns that people have.
If you want to be an accomplished relationship builder, you must discern what lies underneath so you can address the real concerns.
Remember that at your workplace, every person has a unique perspective. Some may resonate with you, others may not.
While you may not agree with them, you have to build strong functional relationships with them. In any organisation, it is a collective effort that produces results.
And these relationships cannot be built if you do not care about the goals, needs, challenges and concerns of the people you work with. When you communicate effectively about the things that matter most to them, you demonstrate that you care about them.
I find that when people feel you resonate and connect with them at this level, they will allow you to influence them. And when there is resonance in a team, everyone wins.
Are you a relationship builder?
Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times