Not WHAT But WHO
As humans, our number one asset will always lie within our relationships with other human beings. The combination of quality, quantity and diversity, revolving around our relationships with other human beings, is at the source of any emotional, physical and even spiritual value that we are blessed with in this life.
While I have become a skeptic of higher education and the myth that everyone must go to college, the college experience is one of the best metaphorical lenses in exploring the value of WHO over WHAT.
The value in the school you attend is not in the knowledge you receive from the textbooks or professors you’re assigned. You can get almost any text through Google or Amazon, and you can learn from some of the most knowledgeable minds through YouTube videos. The value in the college experience lies within the network of people you will have the opportunity to establish long-term relationships with, during your short-term collegiate years.
This is the number one reason that any ivy league-caliber college experience is so valuable; you are entering a pool of assumed thoroughbreds who are on the fast track to leadership roles in our society.
Whether you went to an ivy league university, a community college or no college at all, the opportunity to develop your WHO is more potent today than ever before. The formerly referenced “six degrees of separation” from any other human being in the world, has been cut in half to three degrees or less through the power of technology and social media.
This new reality simply increases the odds you’ll get the handshake or elevator ride with a person who could change the trajectory of your entire life in ways that you might not be able to envision or imagine as you meet them. But how do you even identify who that life-changing person is?
Building lasting relationships is something that came natural to me starting in junior high school, when my father enrolled me in a prestigious private school on the other side of town. I was forced to meet classmates from different neighborhoods throughout the city I grew up in (Syracuse, New York).
As I began to “make friends” at my private school, I started hanging out with different kids from different neighborhoods that each of these new friends were from. In each new place I visited, I’d meet new friends who attended the public school in that area of town. Before you knew it, I started to see the beauty of the human connection ecosystem, and I enjoyed it.
The ecosystem remains the same for me today, but it’s not limited to Syracuse or Birmingham, Alabama [where I live now]. Instead, I do the same thing with friends I have in cities across America, where I am able to build my network in each city through the gracious introductions I continue to get from countless close relationships God has blessed me with in the present.
As a matter of fact, while my home is in Birmingham, there are several other cities I visit regularly enough that I call them secondary homes. Some of these cities (Nashville and Atlanta), are places where I have an office and an AirBnb relationship from being there on such a regular basis.
So what are the keys I’ve learned to achieve optimal quantity, quality and diversity when it comes to human connection?
Every relationship is a value proposition. This is reality. In just about anything you do in this life, you must give value to receive value, and this especially true when it comes to relationships. The value proposition does not have to be an “even trade”, nor should you be “keeping score”. But you’ve got to bring value to build a relationship with any substance.
Before you explore what value it is that you want to bring to the other person, you must first have a vision for your relationship that gets you excited enough to even want to bring value. Otherwise, your efforts will not be authentic. You’ve got to imagine “what could be” with your new relationship, to guide you in regard to the time you choose to invest into it.
To envision the potential for a new relationship, you have to actually care about the other person. This starts with a genuine love for other human beings that you don’t even know yet. The kind of love that has you appreciating a homeless person as a fellow human being, just as much as the admiration you have for a successful celebrity you could end up on an elevator with.
I’ve learned that if you take the time to ask any person about their story, where they come from, where they spend the majority of their time in the present, how they got to this point, their biggest learnings in life, etc… you will immediately gain a human connection that can be amazingly powerful.
Listen, learn and appreciate the other person’s story, because everyone has one and every story is different. Then evaluate opportunities where you can help your new friend, whether it’s through an introduction to a new person, information on a topic they’re passionate about or something else that you’ll realize days after the conversation. You can’t bring real value to a relationship without this vital foundation.
If you have an agenda, people will sense it. This should not be a game of manipulation. I think this is a big reason people struggle at “networking events”. Its forced introduction and some people cannot get over the lack of reality that is involved in such a scripted human connection environment.
Just because we are talking about non-sexual relationships, does not mean that attraction is a missing component. There is still a heavy component of attraction that leads to a true relationship of human connection. To win others over (woo), you’ve simply got to be yourself and break down the facades that we all tend to use to cover up the percentage of ourselves that we are ashamed of.
If the opportunity presents itself, share stories of failure and some real nuggets about the journey that got you to where you are today. Don’t overdo it and make the other person uncomfortable, but realize that conveying your shortcomings in an effective manner will make you more human and it is also what will allow the other person to appreciate you as a fellow human being they can relate to.
You also must establish a healthy mix of credibility to go with this “relatability” you’ve hopefully been able to provide. This comes through your ability to talk about some things you’ve been blessed to accomplish, without going so far that you’re a braggart.
Both relatability and credibility are vital. They are both an art that you should give some thought to because they can go wrong quite easily, leaving you wondering why that person never called you back.
Human relationship is a marathon, not a sprint! People tell me all the time how “busy” they are. They’ve got their job, their family and maybe a pastime or two. Sorry, but everyone is “busy.” You choose to spend your time where you choose to spend your time.
Relationships are a time investment just like anything else. You have to remember to follow up with those you’ve met, to begin to provide whatever it is that you’ve determined will be valuable and to simply reconnect for further conversation in getting to know one another.
Keep a list on paper or use technology to organize contacts based on actions you need to take to follow up with them. Determine the best way to reach them; text, email, phone or even social media direct message. Each person is different based on their age and their status. You must put thought into determining this, while also remembering to follow up.
I’ve learned that taking the time to put thought into a hand-written note with a small token of appreciation for your new friend, is always a wise thing to do within a week of meeting that person. I’ve also learned that you have to be authentic in your approach on this. These are actual relationships you are building, not prospects for a sale. If it becomes the latter, you will fail.
Don’t just write a four word note and sign it with an autograph with an Amazon gift card. Write them a note on a topic you discussed in your conversation. Reference something that your new friend mentioned in your conversation as a tip for a thoughtful gift they’d appreciate (a restaurant they like, a sport they play, a favorite sports team they have, etc.).
You must also realize that you are essentially an investor in human connection. You can’t have a high level of human connection with every person you speak to. Thus, you have to evaluate the quantity of high quality relationships you can pursue, based on the time you’re willing to invest. You also must be intentional about investing diversely, based on age, race, creed, politics, etc. This will diversify your perspective, knowledge and wisdom, along with giving you a broader network of connections. If we all did this, I am convinced that America would not have its current social challenges.
One day I will write a book on this topic, because it’s both my passion and something I’ve learned is the key to progress in this life. At Influencer (INFLCR), we get the opportunity to work with the personal brands of athletes and the sports brands they are associated with. Through our product and services, we get the opportunity to empower some very potent personal brands on social media. However, I still find that we are helping them each realize the big picture objective, which is for them to leverage the platform they’ve been blessed with, to achieve a wealth of human connection that will live on well after their athletic career is over.