Check the Relationship Box

Hardcore taskmasters get an “A” for knocking things off their to-do lists, but may have a blindspot that will derail them. They may take great pride in their accomplishments without realizing the biggie — connecting with people — never made it to their to-do list in the first place.

My years of consulting with companies taught me that many high-functioning people get so wrapped up in getting things done, that they completely ignore the person on the receiving end of the relationship. It reminds me of the times I am into such a deep text exchange with my best friend that I fail to stop pecking at the screen when she walks up to me and says hi. For just a nanosecond, I want to keep typing.

This sort of focus has its place — like, say, brain surgery or landing a plane. But for people who are trying to sell something or influence someone, relationship is King. It is in this area of connecting that we “people people” can appreciate our preference for late night conversation over reading ahead in our textbooks. In Malcolm Gladwell terms, we achieved our 10,000 hours of deliberate practice — before graduating high school. Finally, it comes in handy.

A client of mine talked about a gap among some of her direct reports. They execute well, but fail to truly connect with clients. I listened in on their client calls and heard what she meant. It’s subtle. Her people said so many of the right things – warm hellos;  “how were your weekends?” and friendly discussions about progress toward goals. But, there was something missing. They were more interested in getting the meeting “done” than in making a connection. Their “tells” were comments like “let’s get back to the agenda” after a client asked a question or mentions of the “limited window of time we have today” as a way to keep things on track. These nudges, perhaps invaluable in internal meetings, landed like slaps on the wrists to their paying clients. Worse yet, they inhibited the tangential conversations that so often lead to expanding the business — and the contract.

For people who are able to tend to both task and relationship, they understand the dance. These people are able to listen on multiple levels, at once, and keep a conversation on track without ever mentioning the words ‘time’ or ‘agenda.’

What I know from working with thousands of people is that you cannot see yourself without the help of others. And while our strengths come to us as naturally as breathing, our gaps are often just as unconscious. This means managers need to know how to give feedback in a way that makes an impact. I teach clients to provide constructive feedback with context so that the recipient isn’t paralyzed by shame but instead is inspired to try something new.

And, it works.

What about the client relationship manager who rushes through her client meetings? Is she focused on the four other meetings she has that day? Probably. And in her mind, she is experiencing success. But what she doesn’t know is what she’s missing. With a little bit of direction, she could learn to add people to her to-do list, too. Yes, at first, she will try to check them off the list as well. But, eventually she will learn that it is in this mess where she will find the gold.

***Standard disclaimer: Written on the fly. Please excuse spelling and grammatical errors as well as partial thoughts, generalizations and unintended whiplash.


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