The not-so-secret ingredient to strong business relationships
Share this Article

Authenticity is at risk of becoming a buzzword — but in reality, there is no other way for partnerships and team member relationships to succeed.

Successful relationships are built upon three pillars: communication, trust and consistency. And if anything holds those pillars together, it is authenticity. It can feel like a buzzword, but it just means being true to our desires, interests and motives, while respecting and honoring those of others.

All that sounds straightforward. But as a runner, I can tell you the same thing is true about early morning training. Saying those words is easier than putting them into action, and training is to marathons as soil is to flowers.

Weather or general tiredness are only a few of the factors that can complicate getting out of bed and getting out the door on some days. Similarly, our relationships at work or in collaborative projects can be characterized by disappointments and disagreements, unexpected external pressures, personality differences and more. But being successful in business means getting things done, no matter if all our ducks are in a row.

I believe the art of authenticity can be refined in business relationships, and I’d like to outline the best strategies to get there.

1. Emphasize effective, and fluid, communication.

Communication is seeded by curiosity. Always be curious about others’ points of view — and be clear about your own. The latter is something you know better than anyone. Business partners or team members will be counting on you to be upfront, but diplomatic. If your business operates internationally, you may at times have certain sensitivities to navigate due to different communication styles and preferences.

Be clear and humble about the things you don’t know. It might help to learn more about concepts like social location, a sociological concept, in order to understand things like biases and blind spots, which everyone has.

2. Remember the value of being face to face.

Despite the fact that many businesses have pivoted back to at least hybrid arrangements after the pandemic’s peak, remote working is largely here to stay. And this new reality brings questions about how to forge deep, meaningful connections and generate energy behind screens.

One global study of managers done by Harvard Business Review suggests that this is possible, but complicated. Virtual meetings, for example, can be plagued by missed nonverbal cues, patchy internet connections, distractions and/or time constraints. Add to this that in-person contact is particularly authentic. Neuroscientific research demonstrates that physical proximity and touch can stimulate oxytocin, and even has the effect of lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

The virtual space holds a lot of power for work, and it’s far from incompatible with authentic relationships. But remember that human beings aren’t necessarily built to go without in-person connection for prolonged periods of time. Make time to connect in person wherever possible and as often as you can. For business partners, this might mean coffee or lunch. For remote teams, even if there’s no specific mandate for in-person contact, it’s worth spending at least a few hours a week together. Be intentional and purposeful with this time, so people don’t feel that the exercise in connection is a chore or a waste of time.

3. Visualize and plan ahead.

The tricky thing about human relationships is how little we can predict them — and attempting to do so can actually strain our connections with other people. That said, there’s a way to keep open the ends that need to stay open, while still being able to visualize and plan ahead.

In business, we come together for a reason. It may be to brainstorm, to roll out a product or complete a specific project within a certain timeframe. Make sure you’re continually asking yourself: What is being done to keep the project on schedule or to keep everyone on board and in tune with the mission? What is everyone’s role? What ideas are they expected to bring to the table, and are those contributions clearly valued?

You might wonder what any of this has to do with authenticity. To be authentic, people need to feel a sense of belonging, and a sense of belonging goes hand in hand with purpose.

4. Be clear about your boundaries.

Clear boundaries set expectations about who is doing what in a business relationship. This means what others can expect from you in terms of frequency of communication, deadlines, roles and so on.

Boundaries are different from rules, even though it’s easy to get the two confused. Many people think of boundaries as walls, when really they are gateways. If it’s gotten to the point where there have to be walls for everyone’s safety and well-being, this indicates relationship breakdown. Our bodies and minds are good at sending us signals, so trust your instincts and bring in external support as needed to help get things back on track.

Everything depends on authenticity.

Good communication is how our selves, feelings, and ideas are conveyed to others. Trust means that our statements and actions become bonds others can count on, while also allowing room for mistakes and human error. Consistency is what enables customers, partners and team members to feel loyal to us, coming back to the relationship again and again. And being authentic is the string that ties, and binds, everything together.

This article originally appeared in the Memphis Business Journal.