You just met someone you feel you could learn a lot from. This person might be a rock star in your industry or just a higher-up at your company. He or she just handed you their business card and suggested you two keep in touch. What do you do now?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind should not be what you can ‘ASK’ of them. Rather, it should be what you can ‘GIVE’ them. The reason for that is simple. The foundation of any relationship is trust. Trust builds over time and through reciprocity. To set reciprocity in motion, start by giving first:
Give Information: Even though information is abundant and easily accessible these days, there is still a shortage of people who can actually draw strategic insights from facts and figures. The next time you send a link of an article to someone, don’t just copy and paste the link to the body of the email without adding detailed context. The better approach would be to write a summary of the article in your own words and communicate why you think the article is relevant to what this person is trying to achieve. He or she will certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness.
Give Intellect: My favorite question to ask someone whom I admire and want to learn from is “what book would you recommend me”? I ask this question because I believe people recommend books that reveal quite a bit about who they are and what they are passionate about. Once I get the recommendation, I read the entire book from cover to cover. I take copious notes along the way, so I could share what parts of the book resonated with me with the goal of stimulating an intellectual conversation with that person. As a ‘thank you’ gesture, I find another book that is cut from the same thread, read it, and mail a new copy to him or her to continue this virtuous cycle of intellectually invigorating conversations.
Give Inspiration: We all need a little motivation from time to time. We need people to believe in us when we are having trouble believing in ourselves. As such, it is of no surprise that we seem to build stronger bonds with those who were there for us during challenging times. Just recently, an acquaintance informed me that he was planning to apply to his dream business school. Having gone through that arduous process myself, I knew he would need a boost during those early morning, pre-work, GMAT study sessions. I decided to mail him a coffee mug from his dream school to remind him every morning to keep moving towards that goal. This small gesture made a sizable impact and I can say he is currently making strong progress. The key is to find out what people’s aspirations are and support them in a memorable.
Give Appreciation: I feel the most gratitude during the month of April because that is when TIME magazine releases its list of 100 Most Influential People. This is the period when I reflect on the people who had the most positive influence in my own life in the past year. After I compile a list of 5-8 people, I hand-write a thorough letter to each person expressing the impact he or she had on me. As a final touch, I attach a copy of the special TIME 100 issue along with the letter and send it priority mail. I enjoy doing this every year and I can tell you that people really do appreciate this gesture. As you come up with your own creative ideas, just keep this principle in mind: when someone moved mountains to help you in a major way, that person deserves more than a ‘thank you’ email or text. By showing appreciation in a special manner you move one big step closer towards cementing the relationship.
The old saying, “anything in life that is of value takes time,” rings true in building relationships. I would just add “…and acts of giving” and you have yourself a winning formula.