Creating Relationships That Matter

Team Huddle Harmony Togetherness Happiness Concept“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

Tired of networking? If you’re like most people, you probably are. After all, who really feels good about getting out there to pursue business or job leads? Actually, not too many of us. In fact, according to one study, career-oriented, or instrumental, networking can leave people “…feeling somehow bad about themselves – even dirty.”

By contrast, spontaneous networking in pursuit of emotional support and friendship does not have this affect. So, meeting new people in social situations is generally less stressful, and can lead to more meaningful relationships. Not only that, but friends enhance your well-being. Making sure you have friends in all parts of your life builds a social support community that can enrich your life. Frankly, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point, the best-networked people have a knack for making for making friends and acquaintances – often from diverse walks of life. You can too, and here are five tips that can help.

Become Your Own Best Friend. Counterintuitive as it may seem, you can’t be your best for others until you can be your best for yourself. If you want some quick tips on how to be your own best friend, you can always find them on line. Personally, I feel this is actually a deeper process that includes understanding who are, what you value, what you want out of life, and what you have to offer others. Even if you have some degree of self-understanding, you can always deepen it. So, I most often recommend using a process to attain greater personal clarity via introspection and external feedback.

Evaluate Your Relationships. Unless you truly are a hermit, you are no doubt connected to a lot of people. The question is, where do those people show up in your life, and what is the quality of those relationships? According to Shasta Nelson, you can benefit from thinking about the people in your life as falling into one of five friendship circles based on levels of consistent contact and intimacy:

  • Contact Friends are people you’re friendly with when we see them in a shared context, say at a class, but with whom we share little intimacy.
  • Common Friends are people with whom you share a common activity, but also with whom you make an effort to expand the relationship, making the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom you have expanded your relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.
  • Committed Friends are people with whom you have intimately and consistently shared your lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  • Confirmed Friends are people with whom you share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when your connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes a bit easier to see your various relationship circles and figure out where and with whom to invest more time. Remember, though, that these circles are always in flux with people moving from one circle to another based on what’s going on in everyone’s life.

Be Sure To Establish Friends At Work. Most people tend to think about their coworkers as, well … coworkers. So, while they may enjoy their company at work, they usually don’t nurture friendships. If that’s the case for you, change it. Why? Research has found that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction!

Get Out And Play. One of the best places to meet new people is during leisure time activities. So, whether you attend a class, are a regular at the gym, volunteer in your community, or participate in social activities with other people, you have the opportunity to start new friendships. Often conversations flow naturally around the activity, and can get the ball rolling to learn about other interests of the people you meet. Just make sure to leave your elevator pitch at home and take a genuine interest in truly listening and getting to know others.

Use Social Media. With the explosion of social media usage, it would seem that meeting people and nurturing friendships online would be natural. Only it’s not. The fact is, many people tend to segment their social media usage into categories. For example, using LinkedIn for business contacts and Facebook for family and friends. Yet, breaking down those walls can have real benefits. Specifically, connecting with people you know on multiple platforms (including, yes, Instagram and Snapchat) leads to more interactions across more areas of interest, allowing relationships to grow. Even better, learning how to engage new people consistently, in meaningful ways, and on various platforms can be the basis for new friendships.

Take Small Steps. Relationships take time, and require consistent small touch points that lead to more shared experiences. Actually, this is a good thing because it removes the sense of urgency so often connected with business networking, and it allows relationships to flourish more naturally. Remember friendship is an art. It emerges from exchanged pleasantries, shared experiences, insightful moments, and growing affection all taking place in small steps over time. Yet, take those small steps with enough people and before you know it you’ll find yourself not only well connected but also happier.

Why Give and Receive Networking is a Mistake

festival backgroundIt’s probably fair to say that giving has long been a core tenet in diverse religious and moral codes. In fact, charity, or almsgiving, is typically regarded as an act of virtue which leads to societal as well as individual greatness. Even today, there is wide recognition of the benefits of giving. We’re naturally generous with friends, family, and business associates. Yet, we also donate to causes, we give back, we pay forward, or we lend a hand.

And while our generosity makes life better for the beneficiary, it also makes life better for us. It makes us happier and healthier. Insofar as giving freely benefits all involved it’s a good thing, especially as it establishes a virtuous circle that promotes greater joy.

The Perversion of Generosity

Unfortunately, the fundamental principle of generosity can become perverted, and often is. Business / career networking is a case in point. Perhaps there is no better example of an activity where quid pro quo is the rule built into nearly every interaction. You know. Help me get what I want, and I’ll help you get what you want.

Actually, as I was reminded in a post on “give and receive” networking, there is a new twist on that rule. And it’s to give often and unconditionally. Frankly, I think it’s misguided advice. Sure, the author of the post seemed well intentioned, and did a good job of setting expectations, including the meaning of unconditionally giving, not expecting help to come directly from a given individual you’re helping, and remaining open to help that may arrive unexpectedly from any source.

And yet, her conclusion was that it’s more fun when you approach networking as a game of give and receive. It made me think that this only corrupts generosity that’s meant to be unconditional. It creates the expectation that your unconditional giving will flow back to you, some day, in some way. It seems principled, but it keeps you locked in a game that remains the same.

Games Without End

Albert Einstein famously stated that no problem can be solved at the level at which it was created. While many of us believe we know what he meant, we mostly don’t. Fortunately, the three therapists who wrote Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution do explain it.

Drawing on the field of mathematical logic, the authors explain that groups operate in a way that preserves the integrity of their rules. Any effort to produce change from inside the context of the group can only result in an outcome dictated the rules. The system “…cannot generate from within itself the conditions for its own change; it cannot produce the rules for the change of its own rules.”

So, a game of give and receive will remain a game of give and receive. Operating by those rules keeps us forever at their mercy. In other words, unless we find a way to change the rules – and we won’t – we’ll be caught in a continual flow of transactions in which we give with the hope that we’ll someday get. And even if we receive, we’re at risk of being trapped in a game without end.

Leave the Game

Of course, we could always leave the game. We could abandon the illusion that all the selfless giving will benefit us in the long run. To accomplish this we need make a second-order change. In explaining this, Change authors draw on another theory in logic. While the explanation they offer is somewhat abstract, they are really talking about change of change. And perhaps the simplest and clearest example they offer is this:

“The one way out of a dream involves a change from dreaming to waking. Waking, obviously, is no longer a part of the dream, but a change to an altogether different state. This kind of change will from now on be referred to as second-order change.”

So, if the game of giving and receiving is the dream – and very often it is – the best solution is to wake up. That is, exit the game. Because only then can you make higher level changes that will have a positive impact.

Elevate Your Success In Life

Because give and get exchanges keep you focused on transactions, it becomes too easy to overlook the inherent value of relationships in and of themselves. Remaining forever focused on getting what you want traps you in a pursuit that may have limited benefits, no matter how much you give.

Worse, the game can keep you from developing relationships that are consistent, reasonably intimate, and create bonds based on shared experiences. In short, friendships that spark joy, and can contribute to living successfully across all parts of your life. And should you need help, it’s friends who are most apt to rally to support you. Why? Because they already know, like, and trust you.

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Being a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, mutual support, and enhanced well being.

You just need to wake up!