Earlier this month I spoke at the Women Leaders in Retail and FMCG Conference. on this topic. Here are the key points from that speech

12 years ago I migrated to Australia and there is nothing like setting foot in a new place with no family, no networks and where your past was kind of interesting but not more relevant beyond that it demonstrated skills. It was like being reborn and to be honest it was also a little scary. I’d invested a lot to come to Australia and felt under-pressure for this move to work. I was pretty scared of failing and that doesn’t help relationship building. Fear is definitely the enemy of great relationships and so the relationships I had with colleagues and suppliers were a little transactional rather than connected and empathetic.

A colleague of mine gave me some really straight feedback and this was definitely an ‘aha’ moment. More than anything in my rush to make everything work perfectly I was trying to connect but I wasn’t actually making myself available to build relationships. I was going through the motions. Two crucial things weren’t working I wasn’t listening to others and I was closing myself off from deeper connections on which great relationships are founded. In fact I was finding relationships stressful and was getting stuck in my head, working out what I was going to say next and not attending to other person. In addition I was avoiding the unstructured moments outside of functional work aspects where real connection could occurs.

The first steps on the journey for me was to build greater self-awareness that wasn’t just a head driven mental thing but developing the capability to  bring my awareness back to a physical experience in the body. I got back into yoga and using simple mindfulness exercises where I could learn to listen to how my body responded to people and situations. I began to pay attention on purpose to the present moment. In building that attention I began to listen to others, make space for them as well as learning to able to make choices about I how responded to people. I learnt to trust in myself, and in so doing more authentic

This an ever unfolding journey here are some key areas for building better relationships that have worked for me:

Find the Good in Yourself
This comes from American neuropsychologist Rick Hanson and resonates very strongly for me:
Let be: be mindful and present without automatically reacting
Let go: acknowledge when things or people are difficult and choose to shift your awareness to more positive and sustaining emotions, thoughts and feelings
Let in: seek out the ‘good ’in you and decide to rest your awareness there so you grow and develop stronger positive emotions

Body Language Matters

When we make contact with someone we should come to that space from a connected and loving perspective.  Slow down, take the other person ‘ín’, be open and self-aware.  Body language matters and working towards creating a positive feedback loop. 

Cultivate Curiosity.

We’re all naturally curious. Learn to embody curiosity. Roll back your shoulder, relax your body, take a risk, and ask a questions beyond the superficial. If the person seems hesitant encourage them to open up without being personal. In response to their answers experience how you feel, engage that the sense of wonder that follows from this action. Be grateful for the connection and express true appreciation for connection.

Another’s Shoes

Take on the perspective of the other person. Too often we’re about creating separateness and cynicism is rife in our culture. We seem to focus on finding reasons not to like people instead of reasons to like them. Shut that cynical voice off, and concentrate on looking for the good in any person. For one thing, that keeps you from writing someone off too soon, but more importantly, when you expect the best from people, they’re likely to deliver it. Instead think this person is just like me, “cognitive empathy”, you can perceive the edges between you and the other person as porous without losing your personal autonomy even if you don’t agree with them you can acknowledge their viewpoint. 

Pay More Mindful Attention.

One giant thing that keeps us from connecting with other people is that we don’t really listen. Instead, we’re thinking while the other person is talking. We’re so focused on what we’re going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect us down the road that we fail to hear what’s really being said. The words come through loud and clear, but the meaning is lost. You must turn off this inner voice if you want to connect deeply with people. So what if you forget what you were going to say or if the conversation moves in a different direction before you have a chance to make your point. If your real goal is to connect with a person, you have to shut off your own soundtrack long enough to focus on what they’re telling you. 

Be Willing to Be Vulnerable

Its not wrong to show your vulnerability, resist the urge to make yourself look just as good (if not better). Doing so may stroke your ego, but it doesn’t help you to connect with them.

The good news is we’re programmed to connect, we just keep getting in our own way.