In part because of this belief, I have often used an exercise at the start of leadership training that I call “Something in Common.” One stage of that exercise involves two people who have just met working to find something they have in common that is unusual, distinct or really interesting – and they have 2-3 minutes to do that.
After the exercise is over, the partners have shared with the group their “unusual commonalities,” and we debrief the exercise. Several years ago someone said (and others have said similar things since then) “In some ways I feel like I know this person more than some people I have worked with for 3 years.”
3 minutes, vs. 3 years.
While that person’s comment isn’t likely literally true, it points to something incredibly important to us as leaders:
- We are super busy
- Building relationships is important
- Building relationships doesn’t have to take very much time (at a time).
In three minutes, participants don’t know people’s life story, but they do learn some important things – about things that matter to the other person. And while they haven’t built a friendship in three minutes, they have made a connection.
Having watched many groups after facilitating this exercise I can tell you these connections grow during the training, and this three minutes has led to many significant ongoing business relationships – all starting from three minutes.
So what can you do as a busy leader to invest in building relationships, even with small amounts of time?
Learn about an interest or passion.
If you already know they love knitting, the TV show Pawn Stars or Texas A&M, ask them about their latest project, the latest episode, or the upcoming game. If you don’t know, keep your ears and eyes open. What are they talking about with others? What do you see in their workspace? Use those clues to discover their interests and passions.
Of course, you could also ask about their interests, which would be a very good idea.
Search for a connection.
Maybe you hate knitting and all crafts, have never seen Pawn Stars and are a Texas fan (A&M’s big rival). It doesn’t matter. Read up on Pawn Stars or watch an episode, or even ask what it is they love about their passion. When you find out why they are passionate, chances are you have just built a connection and you might find a commonality you didn’t know existed.
Continue the Connection.
Once the connection is made, reinforce and extend it over time. Ask about the game. Ask to see pictures of the latest craft. Email them a link to something they would enjoy. Hand them a clipping from the paper. Continue the conversation. Doing this shows you are truly interested by taking the time to remember.
Obey the 3 second rule.
Sometimes leaders tell me they don’t go up and talk to one of their team members because they don’t know what to talk about. The 3 second rule applies here. Give yourself three seconds to walk up and start a conversation. If you wait any longer, you’ll either over-think it and screw it up or over-think it and never say anything at all. Don’t worry about what to say – just say something. Chances are they will be glad you started and pleased that “the boss” took the time to connect.
It is simple, easy and you know how to do it. It is the single most effective way to build a connection with another person. And unfortunately you can still stand out by doing it more often. Oh, and your smile (especially as a leader) is contagious. Build connections and create a positive environment in one action.
A smile is a start, and an encouraging and supportive word goes further. Show people you see their progress. Let them know you appreciate what they are doing and how it is making a difference. This can be for big things, or little things too.
Your mom taught you. Say thank you. Do it more often, you are probably out of the habit.
There are hundreds of other ways to do this, questions you can ask, and more. Your guiding principle should be completely altruistic and focused on the other person. In the end this isn’t about technique, it is about your intention.
Remember that as the leader people want to have a relationship and connection with you – when you make it a point to build that connection in small and large ways, good things will happen for both of you personally and professionally.
Hopefully now you see that it doesn’t have to take much time to nurture that relationship if you do it regularly.
It doesn’t take much time, at a time, but the investment will pay for itself over and over and over.