Business relationships are tricky. Sometimes they are transactional; simply interacting as a means to an end. Other times they are relational, and centered on having meaningful engagements that build and maintain the relationship. And they can even be a combination of the two.
Transactional interactions can be collaborative or competitive. When collaborative, you and your counterpart walk away feeling good about the transaction, like you were treated fairly and more likely to engage with one another in the future. On the other hand, if competitive, you might feel like you were treated unfairly, cheated or nickeled and dimed. In such cases, you probably will not want to engage with this person again.
In relational interactions, you care about the outcome, but also about your colleague. In turn, your colleague cares about you, too. This means you are paying attention to the process and quality of how you are both communicating, not just interacting as a means to an end.
Framing these engagements as a collaborative, relational process helps you build and maintain relationships. Here are five components of collaborative relationships and how you can develop yours to be more mutually beneficial.
1. Fostering open communication.
Communicating in an open and honest manner, in any relationship, is critical. You want to experience the authenticity of your counterpart and you want that person to see you for who you are.
You want to be prepared and honestly acknowledge what it is you know and do not know. Admitting you do not have an answer and saying you will look into it and get back to them establishes credibility. Being caught making things up can be considered deceptive and inauthentic.
2. Building trust.
Building trust allows you both to feel safe sharing information. Trust does not come overnight. It is time-consuming to build, but can be easily compromised.
One way of building trust is to find out what is important to your counterpart and commit to providing something for them. It can be a key data point, a book reference or an introduction to a colleague. Whatever you promise, make sure it is something you can actually deliver on and that will build your image of being reliable.
3. Managing the pace.
Relationships take time. There is a window within which you will feel comfortable about the pace to establish rapport, and build trust and confidence in each other. Signing an important contract the next day can feel rushed, while meeting for three years before closing a deal can feel like an eternity.
It is useful to determine the "what" and "when" of milestones you can use to measure the pace of building your relationship. Your short- and long-term goals will need to be taken into consideration to identify these milestones and when you would like to reach them.
4. Controlling your emotions.
Engaging in new relationships can feel exciting, make you anxious or both. You will not know how to interpret some comments made or actions taken, nor how to communicate your own feelings because you do not know this other person well.
Identify practices you can use to feel more comfortable even in the uncomfortable moments. Try to slow down your breathing or visualize a soothing scene. This will keep you calm and buy you time to think of a suitable response to dig deeper and clarify your understanding.
5. Creating mutually-beneficial outcomes.
At the end of the day, mutual benefits are the payoff for investing time and energy into business relationships. Maybe you learn from each other. Maybe performance increases when you are around each other. Or maybe there are other tangible benefits.
Think about the aspects of the relationship you find valuable and want to retain. What are your contributions? What are theirs?
It is the mutually-beneficial relationships that prove to be most valuable in the workplace, and in life.