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Relationships as the Foundation
of All Success and Happiness

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

There are very few people in the world who have become wildly successful or exceedingly happy without the help of other people. At some point in life, every accomplishment can be traced back to a relationship with somebody ... or at the very least ... the influence of somebody else.

So, to some extent, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that it's all about relationships. That's why my speaking and consulting work is focused on "transforming the people side of business ... to help you get the payoffs you want and need."

Unfortunately, all too many self-centered, profit-driven leaders just don't get it. They often overlook the needs of the very people who can help them reach their goals. They don't take the time to invest in those they work with.

They're like the woman who bragged, "My husband and I have a great marriage. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him and nothing he wouldn't do for me. And that's the way we go through life ... doing nothing for each other!"

The problem is ... when a person feels unnoticed or unnurtured, they get restless and start to look elsewhere. Their loyalties and energies begin to stray. And that always weakens a team or a marriage.

By contrast, C. Gene Wilkes notes, "Team leaders genuinely believe that they do not have all the answers — so they do not insist on providing them. They believe they do not need to make all key decisions — so they do not do so. They believe they cannot succeed without the combined contributions of all the other members of the team to a common end — so they avoid any action that might constrain inputs or intimidate anyone on the team. Ego is NOT their predominant concern."

If you're going to do a better job with the relationships at work and in your life, you must start with a few basics...

1. Demonstrate personal warmth and liking.
In an old "Peanuts" cartoon Charlie Brown says, "I love mankind; it's just people I can't stand."

In other words, it's not enough to theoretically "love" people or "care about" people. You've got to show some real warmth to the people you meet each day. You've got to come across as warm, friendly, likeable, and approachable.

So take a look at yourself. Do you come across as someone who gives off nonverbal "welcoming" signals? Or do you come across as someone who gives off "leave-me-alone" signals?

2. Exhibit even-keeled moods.
At one point or another, you've probably had to work with someone whose moods were constantly going up and down. You never knew how they were going to feel and what they would do. And as a result, they weren't fun or safe to be around.

By contrast, those who build the best relationships on and off the job are fairly consistent in their moods. They are predictable and approachable, and they're basically the same way every time you see them.

How would you describe yourself and the way you handle your moods? More like the first or second paragraph above?

And please, please, please don't tell me you can't help the way you feel. YES YOU CAN. You may not know how to change the way you feel, but your feelings and attitudes are completely under your control. If you don't know how to do that, go back and re-read my book on "PIVOT: How One Change In Attitude Can Lead To Success." (Click here to learn more.)

3. Share some of your weaknesses.
When I have researched various bosses, supervisors, or managers, I've noticed two types: 1) those who cover up their mistakes, and 2) those who readily admit their errors. You might think that coworkers would have more respect for the first type of boss ... the one who never seems to mess up. But that's not the case. When coworkers see what seems to be a "perfect" boss who never makes a mistake, they tend to think "I could never be like that so why bother to try."

In reality, coworkers have more respect for and work harder for the boss who shares some of his weaknesses. They tend to see a boss who is real, who is human, and who can learn from her mistakes. Coworkers tend to identify with those types of bosses, and in the process everybody gets better.

As novelist Ed Howes said, "Express a mean opinion of yourself occasionally. It will show your friends that you know how to tell the truth." Approachable people are honest about their abilities ... and shortcomings. And because they can admit their own faults, they don't have a problem allowing other people to have faults as well.

To build better relationships, embrace the old proverb which says, "Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused."

4. Go out of your way to show kindness.
This may sound rather obvious and simplistic, but it's harder than you think ... because we're all busy. I know I am. I could sit at my desk 24/7 for the next 2 years, never eat, never sleep, and never be finished with the projects I'm working on and need to be working on. And the same is probably true of you as well.

So it takes time and effort to stop what you're doing and show an extra measure of kindness to those around you ... whether you call them coworkers, customers, friends, family members, or even strangers. That's why I was especially touched by Susan Fahncke's story...

  • He was scary. He sat on the grass with his cardboard sign, his dog (actually his dog was adorable) and tattoos running up and down both arms and even on his neck. His sign proclaimed him to be "stuck and hungry" and to please help.
  • I'm a sucker for anyone needing help. My husband both loves and hates this quality in me. It often makes him nervous, and I knew if he saw me right now, he'd be nervous. But he wasn't with me right now.
  • I pulled the van over and in my rear-view mirror, contemplated this man, tattoos and all. He was youngish, maybe forty. He wore one of those bandannas tied over his head, biker/pirate style. Anyone could see he was dirty and had a scraggly beard. But if you looked closer, you could see that he had neatly tucked in the black T-shirt, and his things were in a small, tidy bundle. Nobody was stopping for him. I could see the other drivers take one look and immediately focus on something else - anything else.
  • It was so hot out. I could see in the man's very blue eyes how dejected and tired and worn-out he felt. The sweat was trickling down his face. As I sat with the air-conditioning blowing, the scripture suddenly popped into my head. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, so ye have done it unto me."
  • I reached down into my purse and extracted a ten-dollar bill. My twelve-year old son, Nick knew right away what I was doing. "Can I take it to him, Mom?"
  • "Be careful, honey." I warned and handed him the money. I watched in the mirror as he rushed over to the man, and with a shy smile, handed it to him. I saw the man, startled, stand up and take the money, putting it into his back pocket. "Good," I thought to myself, "now he will at least have a hot meal tonight." I felt satisfied, proud of myself. I had made a sacrifice and now I could go on with my errands.
  • When Nick got back into the car, he looked at me with sad, pleading eyes. "Mom, his dog looks so hot and the man is really nice." I knew I had to do more.
  • "Go back and tell him to stay there, that we will be back in fifteen minutes," I told Nick. He bounded out of the car and ran to tell the tattooed stranger. I could see the man was surprised, but nodded his agreement. From my car, my heart did a little flip-flop of excitement.
  • We then ran to the nearest store and bought our gifts carefully. "It can't be too heavy," I explained to the children. "He has to be able to carry it around with him." We finally settled on our purchases. A bag of "Ol' Roy" (I hoped it was good - it looked good enough for me to eat! How do they make dog food look that way?); a flavored chew-toy shaped like a bone; a water dish, bacon flavored snacks (for the dog); two bottles of water (one for the dog, one for Mr. Tattoos); and some people snacks for the man.
  • We rushed back to the spot where we had left him, and there he was, still waiting. And still nobody else was stopping for him. With hands shaking, I grabbed our bags and climbed out of the car, all four of my children following me, each carrying gifts. As we walked up to him, I had a fleeting moment of fear, hoping he wasn't a serial killer.
  • I looked into his eyes and saw something that startled me and made me ashamed of my judgment. I saw tears. He was fighting like a little boy to hold back his tears. How long had it been since someone showed this man kindness? I told him I hoped it wasn't too heavy for him to carry and showed him what we had brought. He stood there, like a child at Christmas, and I felt like my small contributions were so inadequate. When I took out the water dish, he snatched it out of my hands as if it were solid gold and told me he had had no way to give his dog water. He gingerly set it down, filled it with the bottled water we brought, and stood up to look directly into my eyes. His were so blue, so intense and my own filled with tears as he said "Ma'am, I don't know what to say." He then put both hands on his bandanna-clad head and just started to cry. This man, this "scary" man, was so gentle, so sweet, so humble.
  • I smiled through my tears and said "Don't say anything." Then I noticed the tattoo on his neck. It said "Mama tried."
  • As we all piled into the van and drove away, he was on his knees, arms around his dog, kissing his nose and smiling. I waved cheerfully and then fully broke down in tears.
  • I have so much. My worries seem so trivial and petty now. I have a home, a loving husband, four beautiful children. I have a bed. I wondered where he would sleep tonight.
  • My step-daughter, Brandie turned to me and said in the sweetest little-girl voice, "I feel so good."
  • Although it seemed as if we had helped him, the man with the tattoos gave us a gift that I will never forget. He taught that no matter what the outside looks like, inside each of us is a human being deserving of kindness, of compassion, of acceptance. He opened my heart.
  • Tonight and every night I will pray for the gentle man with the tattoos and his dog. And I will hope that God will send more people like him into my life to remind me what's really important.

Many of you may be looking for your purpose in life. Have you ever thought of this? It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply be kind to others.

Others of you may be looking for a ticket to greater success and happiness. Much of that will be found in the relationships you build. And you can't go wrong by using the four relationship-building tips I just gave you in this article.

Action: Look for 3 acts of kindness you can show this week ... and do them.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, "PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success," Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.
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