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Five Tips on Building Relationship Currency in the Workplace

By Jason Harrell, DTCC Managing Director, Head of External Engagements, Operational and Technology Risk | 5 minute read | March 8, 2023

‘‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ – Unknown

Can you believe he got that job?’ ‘Yeah man, it’s not what you know it’s who you know.’

I am not certain who coined this saying, but I believe that we have all heard it at some point during our professional careers. It means that even the ‘best and brightest’ candidate doesn’t always get the job.

When looking for a job, recruiters say, ‘Use your network!’ You may even ask a colleague about a job and they will say, ‘Did you talk to (or do you know) ‘Ted’ or ‘Naomi’?’ 

People have been hired because of who they are related to, whom they went to school with, or a member of their sorority, fraternity, or social club. The relationships we have can be leveraged throughout our lives and employment is one of the highest relationship currencies we have.

So, let’s face it, relationships matter and your ability to build them (or not) may impact you getting the role or promotion that you want regardless of the knowledge in your head.

Here are five tips that can help you foster great business relationships:

1. The Best Relationships Have Mutual Benefits / Interests

‘You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you’ – Dale Carnegie 

If your view of relationships is solely from the lens of what that person can do for you, you have the game messed up. Imagine if you had a friend that you always had to help or that was only there when they had a problem. How would you feel about that person? When I reflect on my closest business relationships. I try to understand how that relationship may be mutually beneficial. If the mutual benefit is not readily apparent, I may also use mutual interests to create familiarity and build bonds. I have found that mutual interests create stronger social connections and create more genuine interactions with the person whom I intend on forming a relationship with. If you can, learn more about the person before you meet them to accelerate the process of finding common interests and make a conscious effort to share more about yourself as well.

2. Listen to Understand Not Just Respond

‘Who you are is speaking so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person is just looking to respond and, in their eagerness, missed the point being made? I have! It really sucks. I find this happens when dealing with someone that has already determined that they are right and have committed to being right to the point where other points of view don’t matter. In their quest, your voice becomes the equivalent of Charlie Brown’s teacher, womp womp womp womp womp. Some people do this knowingly, and others unknowingly. To avoid this relationship killer, try repeating the point(s) that you thought you heard before responding or ask clarifying questions to gain a greater understanding of the point(s) being made then have your response address those points.

3. Foster an Environment of Acceptance

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ – Maya Angelou

Our differences make us unique. Our backgrounds provide an array of experiences and viewpoints. Our cultures serve as a core on which these differences and backgrounds reside. My best business relationships are ones where I have extended the relationship past the person’s job or the attributes I can easily observe. People are more than the job they do and there is much more than what you can see on the surface. There is a human element where a true connection can be made. Acceptance moves people away from the concept of having a ‘right and wrong’ way of doing things, opening a ‘menu of possibles'. These 'possibles' provide a platform for people to share and be included, creating trust between yourself and the person with whom you are building a relationship.

4.    Be Honest About What You Don’t know

“Don’t be embarrassed by your failures. Learn from them and start again” – Sir Richard Branson

No one has all the answers, but we often are taught to mask, avoid, redirect, deflect, or obfuscate those things that we don’t know. I’ve witnessed this a lot throughout my career and I will be the first to raise my hand as an offender, too. What I have learned is ‘I’ll find out’ or ‘I don’t know’ in many cases is an acceptable answer and provides a human element to you as a leader. In my current role, I serve as an honest broker of information on cyber and resilience issues. What I know, I share, but there are times when I don’t know the answer. I use those moments as opportunities to learn more about my work. Doing this not only elevates my professional growth, it fosters trust in the relationship that I am trying to build.

5.    Be Gracious / Eliminate ‘Glory-Seeking’ Behavior

Have you ever done something for someone only to have that person take the work and present it as their own? Or maybe you worked on a team where the team leader doesn’t recognize the contributions of their team members. Few things can kill a relationship faster than the glory seeker. Rarely are business accomplishments achieved on one’s own accord. Acknowledging those who contribute to your success will build trust, and encourage people to work for you, respect you, and support you.

While there are certainly other tips for building strong business relationships, these have served me well along my professional journey.

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Jason Harrell DTCC Head of External Engagements, Operational and Technology Risk, CISM