Back in 1999, as businesses were contemplating the forthcoming change of the Millenium, a member of BRE in Croydon, Peter Baxter-Derrington, gave a presentation to his networking group about how small businesses could compete in the coming years. One phrase he used stuck in my mind and I have used it ever since. 'Pursue the relationship, not the sale'.
Over the last thirteen years nothing has changed. Pursuing the relationship and not the sale has become something of a mantra for me. I featured it as one of my key tools in 'and Death Came Third' and have shared it with clients across the world ever since. If anything, it has become even more important over the last five years as business reputations have been destroyed and the global economy has seen continual upheaval and shifts in power.
I recently spoke at a conference for leading British boarding schools. The Conference Chair told me beforehand that she saw two major themes for the day, and the main one was the importance of relationships. This talk was sandwiched between two speeches I gave for a leading global financial services company and yet again the theme of relationships dominated discussion throughout both presentations.
So it will come as no surprise that a recent newsletter from a colleague of mine, Lee Jackson, resonated particularly strongly with me. In his newsletter, Lee recounted the opportunity he had earlier this year to meet the Dalai Lama and to ask him one question.
Lee asked the celebrated Tibetan spiritual leader, "What advice would you give to people living in the 21st Century today?"
The Dalai Lama replied, "The twentieth century became a century of bloodshed. That immense bloodshed failed to bring a better or happier world. If we use common sense, we must now find a different approach when we are facing problems; we should not be using violence.
"The only approach that there is left is dialogue...in order to create dialogue, you should first respect others' rights...then compromise or reconciliation dialogue can be meaningful...a long time ago, people just thought 'me, me, me, me, me'. Now we should think 'us'. The whole world should be part of 'us', a part of 'we'."
One of the biggest skills in relationship-building is the ability to take yourself out of the equation and see things from the other person's perspective. If you can recognise what motivates and resonates with the other party, it is always so much easier to find common ground.
Perhaps that is just as important a lesson in life as in business and is particularly relevant at the moment given renewed conflict in the Middle East where the two parties could not be further away from reconciling their differences or seeing the world through each other's eyes.
Whatever happens between nations, we can take control of our own relationships as individuals. When you meet new people, take the time to see things through their eyes and find how you can help each other, rather than just seeing them as a means to an end.
Think 'we' rather than 'me'.