In the world of entrepreneurs and startups, high level relationships are everything. You cannot start a business alone. You need partners, team members, investors, vendors and customers. But people do not realize that all relationships are not the same. There are people you only recognize on the street, business friends and then close friends whom you can always count on to help.
Tommy Spaulding, in his classic book, “It’s Not Just Who You Know,” categorizes relationships into five levels, like floors of a building, and identifies the attributes of relationships at the different levels. More importantly, he talks about the actions required to build a network of contacts at the highest level. He also defines the 5 floors of relationships as follows:
1. Meet and greet relationships (first floor). This is where most business relationships start and remain. You need something specific from the other person – a loan, or product order, or help solving a problem. After you get what you want, you move on, with no giving or commitment.
2. Limited information sharing (second floor). But it is very basic information, the type you dispense out of social obligation or because it is a job requirement, not because you are offering some insight into who we are. Many people call these “close” friends, but in reality there is no trust, feeling, or giving going on at this level.
3. Emotional comfort level that goes beyond facts (third floor). You feel safe enough to voice opinions, discuss perspectives and share feelings in making decisions. In business, positional authority remains the primary guiding force at this level, and most business relationships stay at this level or below.
4. Real same-page connection (fourth floor). This level allows for conflict and resolution with no hard feelings. Here you get the introduction of “net giving” as well as networking. Friends to the end talk about what is important to them and are not afraid to discuss private matters.
5. Sharing the other person’s state of mind (top floor). They become confidants, advisers, and cheerleaders who understand each other’s needs and drives. Vulnerability, authenticity, trust and loyalty are off the charts. It is a relationship based more on giving than on getting. There is only room for a few relationships at this level.
It is often said, “it is not what you know, it is who you know.” In business, there is another dimension, the level of your relationship and the level of trust and giving established. Of course, relationships seldom fit neatly into a given level. They are far too dynamic, and may even move up and down floors like an elevator.
I recommend that you use the top floor as the reference point to think about your own business relationships. How many do you have at the top level, and what are you doing to actively develop more? Are your “close” business friends actually at the top floor, or merely at the second floor? Can you count on them for a real help or a big favor?
Tommy insists that building meaningful relationships, without sacrificing integrity or treating other people as a means to an end, will always help you achieve your goals and move beyond them, personally and professionally. These relationships must be based more on giving than on getting. That kind of giving gives you more than you could possibly imagine.
All relationships require hard work, patience, understanding as well as tactics and strategies designed to make them blossom, just as you have tactics and strategies for marketing, selling, advertising, production, distribution and customer service. Thus, strong relationships are the basis for all the other keys to business success.
Image credit: CC by Flazingo Photos