8 January 2015

“In learning about building and maintaining relationships, discovering that my nickname was ‘Hitler‘ was a life changing moment for me.”

Sorting relationships with paper, scissors, rock


Many years ago I ran a sales team and we were the top team and won every award on offer.  I thought I was a great manager based on results, until I overheard a conversation between two members of my team complaining about someone they referred to as ‘Hitler’.  It turned out to be me.  I was devastated, insulted and hurt.

It’s strange that we can reach a reasonably mature age – 35 years old at the time – without realising who we are, and how others perceive us.  As an ex RAF counter intelligence officer I was drilled to take orders and to give them.  I loved it.  On reflection I realised it suited me and my personality.

The whole ‘Hitler’ experience led to a path of discovery.  Learning about perception and personality types, and how to communicate with people who had different styles and needs.  I transformed myself from a cop into a coach.  I am true to my personality but I have an understanding of other types, and can recognise them and adapt accordingly.

Here are some tips to help you to build and maintain strong relationships, both personal and business:-

First seek to understand and then to be understood

put the other persons’ needs first.  To do that you need to take the time and ask the right questions to truly understand what it is they want to get out of the exchange.

Do unto others as they would be done unto

shouldn’t that be “Do unto others as you would be done unto”? The latter is the correct saying, but it only works if they are just like you.  If your customer, colleague, or loved one prefers to receive information in a written format and needs time to take it all in and you deliver the information in your preferred manner just by telling them quickly something is bound to go wrong.

Study yourself

– is your speech and thinking fast paced, loud and direct or slower, quieter and more considered?

– are you a fast decision maker or do you need time to assimilate all the angles before you commit to action?

– how do your learn and prefer to receive information – do you like to read it, to hear it or learn by having a go. It will probably be a combination but if pushed to choose just one which would it be?

– what’s your style – corporate dresser, suited but relaxed, casual and colourful or casual and restrained?

– what is your desk/office like – ordered and precise, your qualifications framed and on show, stuff everywhere, family photos, plants and desk toys.

– when you send an email is it straight to the point with no personal pleasantries or do you remember to comment on a human level (maybe ask how the holiday went, or thank them for their time yesterday), and say please and thank you?

Study others

observe and try to discern how people are the same as you and how they are different in terms of behaviours and style (compare them to what you have discovered about yourself)

Change your approach

the success of any communication can be judged by the quality of the response.  If it’s not what you expected don’t automatically blame the other person.  Go back to step one and try again but do it differently. I  am sure you are familiar with that other well known saying, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done you will always get what you always got!

Adapt your behaviour

do not copy their body language unless you are very good at mirroring techniques otherwise they will think you are a bit odd.  Are they sitting bolt upright or relaxed?  Is their speech pattern fast or slow?  Is the volume of their voice loud or quieter?

Very, very subtly change your body language and your speech pattern to more closely match theirs.  Do not match them completely.  That’s mimicry, and creepy!

Check that they are satisfied

and, no, I am not talking about ‘did the world move for you too?’! Do they understand? Are they happy with how things are progressing?  Is there anything else they need from you? (OK, I admit it does sound a bit like making someone’s world move!)

Keep your promises

if you said it would be done by Friday then make sure it is.  If there is a genuine reason why not then have the courtesy to contact them, apologise and explain.  As a general rule a customer will be far more loyal to you when you keep them informed and overcome a problem than if it all went smoothly in the first place.  Interactions build relationships.

Be true to yourself

businesses have mission statements and brand values.  If you were a business what would yours be?  What do you stand for?  What do you believe in?  Know them and live by them.  May I suggest that personal integrity should be at the top?

Pay it forward

don’t wait to be asked for help.  Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to assist others.  You can ‘pay it back’ and return favours but if you are genuinely ‘paying it forward’ it will happen naturally.

Set yourself little targets.  I spend a lot of time driving from one place to another and on longer journeys my target is to assist 10 different drivers (you don’t get to count passengers) by stopping to let them out of, or into, a side road.  I always feel good when they acknowledge the help, and I believe in Karma and it works.  Other drivers help me in similar ways.

Overall, if you want to build, improve and sustain good relationships stop thinking about what you need and want and start making it about other people.

My personal ‘Hitler’ is under control.  I still have the propensity to behave in that way because it’s in my personality, but I am aware of it and make every effort to be the better me I know I can be.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” –  from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller 

You are a person too and you will never be perfect.  We are our own works in progress and thank goodness we are able to learn and improve.

Written by Jean McNeil, Nwes Business Support Specialist

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