It's a question most of us have asked ourselves: What makes successful people so, well, successful? It's tempting to think that those at the top of their fields know something the rest of us mere mortals don't. But that "special something" you've been searching for isn't an uncanny ability to predict the market's future, a membership in MENSA, or a secret business formula. Quite simply, the trait that sets top achievers apart from the competition is their ability to connect.
Relationships are the real secret to success. If you can build strong relationships and truly connect with your customers, bosses, and colleagues, you will get your piece of the proverbial pie. If you can't, you'll be scrambling for crumbs.
With the right tools, strategies, and tactics, you can change the way you develop relationships and forge a network of colleagues and contacts who will stick with you through thick and thin—and best of all, voluntarily recommend your services to others.
If you're ready to start truly connecting, read on for some straightforward, easy-to-apply tips that will garner immediate results.
Twenty Simple Tips to Help You Connect
1. Share something personal. When you share something that isn't about work load or the bottom line with another individual (e.g., a story about parenting or your struggle to achieve work/life balance), she'll personally identify with you, and so she will become more invested in your goals and achievements.
2. Don't pretend to be perfect. Everyone loves it when an underdog wins. It's natural to root for someone who faces the same challenges you do—so don't feel that your customers and colleagues have to believe that you're perfect!
3. Be appreciative. Nobody makes it to the top on her own, so be sure to sincerely thank the people who have helped you succeed—no matter how large or small their contributions.
4. Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that reads, "Make me feel important." This was the life philosophy of Mary Kay Ash, the well-known cosmetics mogul. Her genuine concern for others catapulted her out of poverty and was the secret to her success.
5. Seek out a common interest. People are attracted to people who are similar to themselves. If you and a colleague root for the same baseball team or volunteer at the same charity, you will definitely become more relevant in her eyes.
6. Don't work from a script. Scrap the memorized pitch in favor of a more natural conversation. You'll seem more at ease and authentic—and your prospect will be less tempted to think that you're fluffing up the facts.
7. Remember the remarkable. Entrepreneur Sunny Bates makes it a point to identify and write down the things that stand out to her in every conversation. She then references those statements in future interactions—and has been amazed by the reactions she's gotten when others realize that she has paid attention to and valued what they've said.
8. Cultivate curiosity: ask effective questions. Remember: “garbage in, garbage out.” If you ask the wrong questions, you'll get the wrong answers—or at least different answers from the ones you were hoping for. Think about what you're hoping to learn and remember that an open-ended question is almost always more effective than one that elicits a simple "Yes" or "No" answer.
9. Be a good listener. (Don't let your body image betray you!) We're constantly bombarded with information, so it's almost instinctive to tune some of it out. When you're interacting with someone, consciously change your body language to reflect that you want to receive information. Otherwise, it may appear that you're trying to avoid it. Remember, your face says it all.
10. Resist the urge to be a one-upper. Perhaps you feel compelled to share that you battled the flu for twice as long as your colleague. Or maybe you're dying to tell a client how great your vacation to Hawaii was after she mentions her trip to the local lake. Three words: Don't do it. When you try to top other people, you destroy the opportunity for real communication.
11. Know your audience. Whether you're dealing with a colleague, boss, client, or recent acquaintance, it pays to do a little research. Once you know what a person wants, is interested in, and responds to, you'll be better equipped to deliver just that.
12. Play dumb. Socrates used this technique more than 2,000 years ago by feigning ignorance in order to encourage others to express their views fully. Today, many of the world's most successful businesspeople do the same.
13. Remember, "When she cries, she buys." This is the motto of Wisconsin-based financial advisor Dale Froehlich, who closes over 90% of his sales. What he means is: Ask questions about something that's close to the heart of the prospect (e.g., her children). Once she opens up to you, she trusts you. Then, she won't want to go anywhere else.
14. Give 'em something to talk about. Don't assume that people talk about the things that are at the core of what your company provides. However, people will remember and talk about the unexpected things that set you apart. It's often the small things that get people talking. Wouldn't it be nice if a store clerk gave you an extra 10% off your purchase for no particular reason, or if the restaurant manager threw in a free dessert?
15. Let your passion shine through. If you're truly energetic and passionate about what you do, other people will notice. They may buy from you, they may talk about you, or they may follow your career—and they'll definitely feel connected to you.
16. Brand yourself. You don't have to plaster your picture all over a billboard or create a smiling bobblehead version of yourself, but you should leave something behind with the people you encounter: a thought, a memory, or a connection. For example, one businessman who is very health-conscious focuses on his clients' overall well-being by incorporating healthy food, videos, books, and posters into his unrelated business offerings.
17. Take the high road. All of us are faced with decisions that have ethical ramifications. You might have to think about containing costs, managing expectations, dealing with an error, or handling disagreements. Remember that it's a small world, and that you never know whose path you might cross or re-cross—so make sure you have nothing to be ashamed of.
18. Lend a helping hand. Don't let money be your only motivator. When you can afford to, help out your colleagues and clients even if you don't stand to gain anything material. What you will gain is even more valuable: respect and loyalty.
19. Stay in touch. Stay in regular contact with everyone in your network. Even if you're just saying hello, you'll stay on their radar screens.
20. Take a cue from plastic wrap: Be transparent! Make sure that your bosses and colleagues are aware of what's you’re contributing. If you are up-front about your decision-making processes, goals, and company news, you'll earn people’s trust and they'll be more willing to support you.
Connecting takes time and effort, and it often means putting others before yourself. But it's worth every second of time and every ounce of energy. Your relationships will be more rewarding, and you will become more successful. So don't settle for a position on the fringes when you could dwell at the epicenter of productivity and success.
(Adapted from The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life, by Maribeth Kuzmeski, Wiley, 2009).