Are you trying to go it alone? - Michelle Gibbings

Johann Hari’s wonderful book – Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, is a stark reminder of the fact that as humans we crave connection. Without connection we feel lost, isolated and that impacts our mental health and well-being.

In the book he recounts studies in the US which asks the simple question – ‘How many confidants do you have?’

That is, how many people you have to turn to in times of a crisis or when something really good happens. When the research started a couple of decades ago the average number of close friends was three. By 2004, the most common answer was none.

When I read that I was staggered. We are often surrounded by people and yet we can still feel alone, because we don’t feel connected.

We hear a lot about the importance of building a network for career success. There’s no doubt that it’s important, but it’s meaningless if the relationships in that network aren’t genuine.

Many years ago, I met a lady who would network, network, network. Over time, it was clear that the relationship was superficial and highly transactional. It was all about what she could get, because she’d only ever reach out when she wanted something.

Those types of relationships fuel disconnection, not connection and they aren’t sustainable. The best networks are filled with relationships that have breadth, depth and reciprocity:

  • Breadth – a range of people with different experiences and backgrounds. This includes consciously seeking out people with different opinions, who will challenge your thinking and broaden your mind; in turn enhancing your ability to manage complex issues and make better decisions
  • Depth – the relationships have substance and character. They are based on trust, authenticity and integrity. They support you, back you, inspire you and challenge you, and you do the same for them.
  • Reciprocity – the relationship is two way and so you both enjoy building the connection and there’s give and take.

All of this takes time and energy. If you want to build healthy sustainable relationships and in time a solid and strong network then here’s seven tips to consider:

1. Take the long-term view – give people the benefit of the doubt and assume good intent. When you first meet someone you’ll never know where the relationship may lead, so be open-minded and open-hearted with interactions.

2. Be proactive in your interactions and patient – extend the hand of friendship to people and always look for ways to strengthen the relationship. At the same time, don’t ‘take’ before you are willing to ‘give’. Similarly, consistently follow through and live up to your commitments.

3. Build relationships intentionally – respect people’s time and behave honourably. Find ways to maintain the connections – be it through regular catch-ups, thank you notes or offering to help them in some way.

4. Hold your ground – when necessary and remember that a relationship built on trust will withstand consciously challenging conversations. Know how to say ‘no’ when it is needed, so you maintain your integrity and stay true to you.

5. Be YOU – share the real you with other people. Trying to be someone else will come off as inauthentic. It also uses way too much energy when you are trying to be something that you are not.

6. Show gratitude and be generous – be thankful for what people are sharing and offering you. Be genuinely happy when things go well for them. Gratitude is more than just being thankful for what is done for you; it’s about being grateful for what you have and what others have too.

7. Know when to give up and move on – this is hard to do, but when a relationship is unhealthy and not good for you, you need to be prepared to walk away.

And as you do all this it’s timely to remember the words of relationship expert, Dale Carnegie: “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.”

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’.


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