HR & Management

How to keep your business relationships in order

6 min read

02 October 2015

Andrew Morris, the CEO of the Academy for Chief Executives, offers some advice on the gaffes to avoid and the steps to take to ensure your business relationships stay in good shape over the long term.

Business relationships can span an entire career. Someone can slip off your radar tomorrow only to reappear ten years later. It’s a kind of synchronicity that happens all the time. And when it does, what will be uppermost in their minds is how you left things when you last saw them.

There are a few common faux pas that can mar any relationship from the outset and leave contacts with a sour memory. One is over-friendliness. Enthusiasm is fine, but don’t over-do it. Also, be culturally sensitive. That’s particularly true when it comes to humour, where it is always wise to err on the side of caution. I love a laugh, but it’s better to share jokes face-to-face and with close mates.

People who email inappropriate jokes can sometimes get badly caught out – especially if they don’t know the sensitivity or sense of humour of the recipients. We’ve all received stuff we wish we hadn’t. Don’t make this the reason that people remember you.
Instead, aim to be remembered…

(1)… as a good leader

Don’t demand perfection of others or yourself. We’re not robots, we’re human beings. We’re all capable of making mistakes or exercising poor judgement. Someone will remember working with you for all the wrong reasons if it’s because you were a micro-manager who made unreasonable demands of peers and employees. People will connect with you if you’re willing to show vulnerability at times – it shows strength, not weakness. Be prepared to say, “I don’t know the answer right now”.

(2)… as yourself

You cannot sustain healthy relationships if you’re being false or putting on a front, so be authentic. Here’s a test: if your children or partner heard or saw you at work, would they recognise you? But don’t be too obsessive about “keeping it real”: we all have to adapt somewhat to our environment and make cosmetic tweaks to fit a situation. 

(3)… as a decent human being

Titles can change, power can shift, but what business contacts will remember are your human qualities. For example, if you were in a position of authority during a round of redundancies, you will be remembered for the compassion you showed (or didn’t show) or the understanding you exhibited. The decisions you make in difficult situations stay with you because they are remembered for some time by those impacted by them. 

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(4)… as honest

Don’t be remembered for massaging the facts. Flannel gets found out very quickly and can leave lasting impression that could tarnish your reputation. This may even mean sharing something very personal with colleagues so that they understand your behaviour at the time. 

(5)… as even-handed

Don’t get so hung up on titles and seniority that you miss out on a great business contact. Regard everyone as a potential influencer and cultivate the people you want to get to know without worrying about where they are in the corporate pecking order. 

When you get to know them a bit better and where they fit into the world, you can prioritise. But treat everyone the same at first. You’ll have a far more diverse and valuable group of business connections. And who knows? That junior in his first job might be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

How to maintain good relationships

You can actively maintain good business relationships by creating a routine to keep in touch with others. One way to do this is to group people you’ve met into short, medium, and long-term contacts: you might only connect with some every six months or even every year, but you don’t want five years to go by without getting in touch. 

The most effective way to re-engage with contacts is in person. Passion and personality only come through when you’re in the same room. Texts, social and digital media are fine for the initial ‘tap on the shoulder’, but face-to-face conversations are the only way to develop real relationships. If you ask someone for a defining moment in their lives, they’re likely to recall a meeting or a “handshake moment” when the chemistry was great. Passion and personality only come through when you’re in the same room. Face-to-face time is more powerful than Facebook.

Andrew Morris is the CEO of the Academy for Chief Executives.