Lately I’ve been thinking about relationships.
Friendships, romantic relationships, parent and child relationships, and professional relationships. I’ve been thinking about what constitutes a ‘good’ relationship and what the most fundamental component is to achieve it.
Relationships change and morph over time; some relationships progress quickly, others evolve over a number of years, whilst some remain stagnant to the point of dysfunction. There are grown adults who will revert to leaving dirty dishes in their parent’s sink, and friendships that don’t withstand the test of time. You can be too dangerously in love, or you can be too comfortable in love. Or you can get hung up searching for love that doesn’t exist.
Relationships are fundamental to consulting firms like ours and as such we spend more time than most professions thinking about relationships – building relationships with colleagues, journalists, clients and stakeholders is core to our craft. We need to learn how to work well with a diverse range of personalities, juggle different priorities and engage with people who have different end goals. We need to balance agendas, deadlines, budgets and expectations.
So how do we ensure we build and nurture effective and functional relationships in a professional capacity?
One major hurdle is us as humans. We’re subjective animals with varying opinions on how to achieve the ideal relationship. For some it is loyalty, care and honesty. For others it is shared values, empathy and understanding.
If we look at a romantic relationship, the age-old cliché often asked to gauge if it is ideal is “are they marriage material?” This generally superficial question often carries undertones of “Do they have money? Are they good looking? Can you introduce them to your parents?”
But what if we rephrased this question and looked to a more enduring relationship for guidance: “are they grandparent material?”
We’d be inferring: “Are you going to want to be with them over the long haul, when all those superficialities fall away? Do they stick around in a crisis? Can you share your goals and dreams and your biggest fears with them? Can you be frank and honest with them?”, and so on.
These are some of the questions we should ask if we want an effective and lasting relationship, whether it’s in our personal lives or in the workplace, with colleagues and clients. Two teams who trust each other, respect each other’s opinions and who have fun, celebrating successes, is the ideal combination. That is the holy grail of an effective client / agency relationship.
I was once told that to build rapport you need to be open, let your walls down and show your weaknesses. People respond better if you are real and honest and clients and journalists alike feel put off if someone is too ‘on’ or too ‘salesy’.
If we think a story needs work, be honest with the journalist and work with them to shape it into something that will resonate with their audience. If you think a client’s grand idea could be a dud, don’t be afraid to talk them through your fears and allow them to evaluate the risks appropriately. It could protect their brand and avoid a potential disappointment.
Likewise, to do our jobs effectively our clients need to bring us into the fold of their business and trust us with sensitive information. I work on some clients who are working on groundbreaking product innovations that need to be kept secret from competitors. Others are negotiating sensitive financial partnerships that may reveal the valuation of their company. We work to make recommendations with their best interests at heart, to minimise risk but also highlight and raise awareness of their success.
I’ve been lucky to work with clients who trust our counsel, respect our judgement and celebrate our achievements as one team. As with a dependable grandparent, they allow us to discuss worst case scenarios, take advice if it isn’t always what they want to hear and are understanding if things don’t always go as planned. In response, we work with their sole interests at heart – as hard and as long as necessary – because we care about the impact we have on their business. We treat their problems as ours and their goals as ours.
We seek out clients who want to share in this effective two-way relationship, built on trust, respect and having fun. It’s how I want to work and it’s the relationships I want to have; using the role models of our grandparents to get the best result.