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Little-Known Secrets That Will Build
Your Relationships and Your Team


By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

When I worked in sales, occasionally I'd hear a fellow salesperson say, "Selling wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the customers." And when I taught at the university, occasionally I'd hear another professor say, "I really enjoy teaching. It's the students I can't stand."

What they didn't understand was how to build a relationship with their customers and students.

And maybe the same thing could be said about you. You don’t know all you need to know about how to build a great relationship at home or a productive team at work.

In reality, the process is remarkably similar. The same factors that will build your marriage or most significant relationships will also build your work teams.

► 1. Get a realistic understanding of what a relationship can and cannot do.

As marriage therapists Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say, "Marriage is, in actual fact, just a way of living. Before marriage, we don't expect life to be all sunshine and roses, but we seem to expect marriage to be that way." And, "Debunking the myth of eternal romance will do more than just about anything to help you build a lifelong, happy marriage."

I agree. A divorce attorney told me that the number one reason two people split up is that they "refuse to accept the fact that they are married to a human being." The belief in a "happily-ever-after marriage" is one of the most widely held and destructive marriage myths today.

Likewise, corporate teams would be well off to get a realistic understanding of a team relationship. Teams are just another way of working. And there WILL be problems ... that WILL require some patience and skill to get to the outcomes you want.

►2. Get a realistic perception of the other person.

The most dramatic loss experienced in a new marriage is the idealized image the two partners have of one another. Sooner or later, reality will hit the two people squarely in the face: that they did not marry the person they thought they did.

That's why author John Fisher advises, "The success of a marriage comes not in finding the 'right' person, but in the ability of both partners to adjust to the real person they inevitably realize they married."

Similarly, if you're on a team at work, take some time to get to know each other. The more you understand each other, the stronger your team will be.

►3. Engage in meaningful communication.

According to marriage author Gary Smalley, "Many couples, thinking they know each other intimately, have actually lived on a superficial level for years. Unfortunately, marriages of this type are the norm rather than the exception."

In essence, they talk; they don’t communicate.

Talking is the superficial sharing of facts, such as "I'll be home at five ... and ... Let's have spaghetti for dinner."

Communication is deeper and more personal ... sharing who you really are, your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, desires, fears, goals, wishes, ambitions, doubts, dreams, questions … basically everything that doesn’t come up in normal, routine, daily chit chat.

Of course many people don’t know how to communicate all those things. Others are afraid of being so open. And still others are "too busy" for any in-depth communication.

As a result, Patrick Morely says, "The natural course, if untended, is to drift apart and become the proverbial two ships passing in the night." image

Just so you're clear. When I talk about this third secret of “meaningful communication,” I’m also talking about your teams at work. The team that takes time to ask questions, to listen, to build the relationships amongst the team members does better than the team that always keeps its nose to the grindstone, focusing on the "business" every waking moment.

►4. Stay focused on your goal.

It's what distinguishes two people who are "merely" living together and two people who are "truly" married. Truly married people have a common goal they are pursuing.

It's what distinguishes a group of people from a team as well. The group may work near each other or around each other, but a team has a common goal they all are trying to accomplish.

And when you can't see your goal, you're going to have problems.

That became clear to me when I shared the stage with another speaker who had just climbed Mt. Everest. Just before he finished his presentation, he told the audience, “There's a time when you're climbing when you almost feel depressed. You feel so low and down you're not sure you can continue. Do you know when that is?"

The audience shouted out their answers ... such things as ... when you first begin the climb, when you only have 100 yards left, when you reach the top, and when you begin your descent. No one was even close. He said, "Climbers get down when bad weather sets in."

He went on to explain that when bad weather sets in you can't see the peak. You lose sight of your GOAL and become easily distracted and sometimes even depressed.

Of course, you might be wondering what this has to do with your personal relationships or the teamwork in your organization. There's a very clear correlation. Like a mountain climber who can't see the peak, marriages and teams who can't see their clearly defined goals are more susceptible to distractions and more likely to waste their time on the less important things in life.

So ask yourself if your marriage has a clearly defined goal. If not, get one. And the same goes for your team. Get a goal and keep your eye on the goal.

► 5. Respect differences.

Because differences are the source of power ... when they're acknowledged, respected, and utilized.

When it comes to your personal relationships, respect the different focuses in men and women. As Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say, "You'll always find exceptions to the rule, but research and experience consistently point to a fundamental and powerful distinction between the sexes. Men focus on achievement; women focus on relationships. It sounds overly simplistic and it probably is. But remembering this general rule can save every couple wear and tear on their marriage and strengthen their bond."

When it comes to your teams, respect the different skills your team members bring to the group.

Dr. Ernest Bormann, one of the world's leading researchers on team effectiveness and my Ph.D. advisor, found indisputable evidence that the best teams were always composed of a variety of people with a variety of skills. The variety of talent allowed these team mates to find the best solutions that combined the best of everyone's input.

►6. Maintain a positive attitude

Few things are more contagious and powerful than attitudes. And the attitude you bring to your marriage or your team will have a HUGE impact on the results you get.

As the world's leading authority on attitudes, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale declared, "There is a basic law that like attracts like. Negative thinking definitely attracts negative results. Conversely, if a person habitually thinks optimistically and hopefully, his positive thinking sets in motion creative forces, and success ...instead of eluding him ... flows toward him."

That’s so true. I've never seen a happy marriage or an effective team that is staffed with negative people. As author Tom Blandi puts it, "Our attitudes control our lives. Attitudes are a secret power working 24 hours a day for good or bad. It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force."

Notice Blandi says you have to "harness and control this great force." In other words, your attitudes are changeable and controllable.

So don't cop out like so many negative people do ... saying you would be more positive if you had a different job, if you lived in a better place, if you were married to a different person, or if you were teamed up with brighter colleagues.

The truth is your attitudes are not dependent on having better circumstances. You’re the one who decides whether or not you’re going to have a positive or negative attitude, not somebody else.

►7. Spend some significant time together.

The philosopher Paul Tournier got right to the point. He wrote, "To love is to give one's time. We never give the impression that we care when we are in a hurry."

In today's crazy busy world, there are few resources more precious than time. It's so much easier to give our partners things than time. And it's easier to give our team mates quick advice and walk off than spend time on discussion and decision making.

By contrast, one of my clients, AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company, knows about the importance of spending time with others. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, most of the conventions pulled out of the city ... which only lead to further financial devastation; but not AstraZeneca. They came in a few months later with the biggest convention the city had seen since Katrina.

As Rick Reid told me, "After noticing some neighborhoods and buildings in disarray, I noticed the eyes of the local people. Many looked tired and some seemed almost without hope. As I and my fellow coworkers began to work in their neighborhoods and struck up conversations with the locals, their faces changed from despair to glimmers of brightness."

The key point Rick made was all about time. He continued by saying, "Prior to arriving in New Orleans, I was thinking that the main solution to getting things back to normal there would be more money. And indeed, my company has donated over $5 million in cash and medicines. Then I realized all this money helps, but so very much more is needed. Many workers, waiters, housekeepers, and even musicians came up to individuals in our group and thanked us for coming. It was our presence there ... it was our time spent with them ... that seemed to signal the beginning of a return to normal."

Rick has a lesson for all of us. If you want your relationship to work, if you want your team to succeed, then there's no substitute for time. You've got to spend significant time with each other … which naturally leads to the next relationship-building skill.

►8. Build your friendship.

I saw a sign a while ago that read, "Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone." Of course I chuckled, but I also thought how tragic if someone actually believed the sign.

The research says that happily married people seem to know that it takes more than roses and romance to make a relationship work. It also takes friendship.

After all, best your friends don't leave you when the going gets tough. They stick by you, giving you the kind of encouragement that comes from not only knowing you well, but loving you anyway. They don't give up when things look impossible. They hold you accountable without shaming you. They don't even mind if you tell the same story you've told them before, because they like to see you laugh.

The same is true of healthy, productive teams. The team members tend to be friends or at least friendly with one another. That's why meetings, conferences, and conventions are so critically important. In addition to learning new information and picking up some new strategies, team members get to know each other. And all things being equal, people tend to buy from and cooperate with people they know, like, and trust.

Concluding Thought: If anything seems to be missing in your life, chances are your relationships on and off the job need some TLC. Use one or more of the four relationship-building, team-building skills I just outlined and you will have better results.

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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