How to Build Meaningful Professional Relationships

Here’s something that I wish I had learned a long time ago. Neither life nor your professional career is a single-player game.

No matter where you are, what you do, and what you want from your life, in some way or another, your life will be impacted by other people’s actions.

So if you are willing to play it for a long time, you better learn to play well with others. As Naval Ravikant would like to put it:

I actually now firmly believe that everything you do in life all the returns and life come from the compound interest, it comes from the length and strength of your relationship.

Now, when I’m talking about building strong professional relationships, I am not talking about networking for the sake of networking. According to Greg McKeown’s article in Harvard Business Review, 99% of networking is a waste of time.

It’s because chasing opportunities when you don’t have anything of value to offer is the same as trying to store rainwater — with a tennis racket — in a freaking desert.

First, be good enough to bring something to the table.

Will it be easy?

No, it won’t.

It will take time, effort, dedication, and most importantly, innovation. But you can speed up the process if you put yourself out there and let the right people in.

Here’s how to do that.

Set Your Ego Aside

Let’s face it. Not every aspiring entrepreneur is out there to add something to the world. Most people are in it because it’s cool.

They try to cut in line, hack the game, and get instant rewards. All the while being too impatient to learn the rules. I know it because I was one of them.

Back when I quit my job to set out on my own, it wasn’t like I was passionate about solving anyone’s problem. I did it because I used to hate jobs. To put it more bluntly, I despised being average.

I thought I was special. I thought I was better than everyone else.

When you come from this line of thinking, you don’t want to look at your shortcomings. You think you are perfect. You don’t want to grow. And that makes you difficult to work with.

You look at people who are more successful than you, and you get offended — instead of being inspired. And this simple little attitude can be the death of your dreams. Here’s why.

If you want to be good at something, the fastest way to do that is to learn from the best. As Tim Ferris would advise:

Find a situation where you can be in the room with masters of a craft. That could be just deal-making…you sit in a room with an absolute pro at crafting deals, negotiating, and getting past no.

And why does it matter?

Focus on the skills and relationships first. And then you can just create a blank check for how much money you wanna make.

Focus on Value

Now even if you learn to put your ego aside and be open to working with others, how do you know whom you want to work with? And, most importantly, why would they want to work with you?

Here’s what you need to know.

It doesn’t matter how many hours you work, how old you are, or whether you run a business or work for one. You are only as valuable as the problems you solve for your market.

Problem-solving requires you to identify the problems that your customers are facing and come up with creative solutions to address them.

How do you do that? You can do it by either creating innovative products and services or improving the existing ones. That’s how you stay ahead of the curve and dominate your competition.

That’s why you should always chase the value.

You will want to associate with people who are exceptionally well at solving problems. So focus on achievements over claims, actions over words, and substance over the hype.

Most successful people are people you’ve never heard of. They want it that way. It keeps them sober. It helps them do their jobs.

Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy

It also goes the other way around.

If you want to build trust and maintain strong, lasting relationships with the right people, start by addressing their problems. That’s the best way to gain both attention and credibility.

Look for Longevity

Your best business relationships are gonna be with people that you end up working with for decades

According to Naval Ravikant, another way to determine whether you want to build a meaningful relationship with someone or not is to ask yourself this simple question. “Is this someone I’m gonna know a decade from now?”

In his own words:

I’m very weary of people who are over-optimizing for the moment. Because they are signaling they are not a long-term player. If they are not a long-term player, you don’t want to establish relationship with them.

So if you see people chasing instant rewards at the expense of their long-term interest, you know they aren’t reliable. It’s a telltale sign of a fixed and scarcity mindset.

These people don’t last for long. So there’s no point being around them unless you want to be dragged down with them.

Assess, Utilize, and Compound Your Leverage

So when it’s all about value and longevity, people will like to test you before they trust you. And make no mistake. The opportunities will be limited. So you will have to put your best foot forward from the get-go.

But you can’t do that if you haven’t figured out your value proposition yet. Be clear. What is your USP? Everybody has one. So do you.

If you are flexible enough, even your disadvantages can turn out to be your advantage. For example, not having enough funds might push you into boosting your efficiency.

So, here is how it goes:

  1. Define your value: You need to identify what makes you unique. It could be a specific expertise, a particular skill set, or even a unique perspective or approach to problem-solving.
  2. Present with clarity: Confidence comes from clarity. You are bound to doubt yourself if you don’t know what sets you apart from others in your field. So be clear about why your potential partner or customer would resonate with your value proposition.
  3. Compound your value: Most people start slagging off after they get some momentum. Don’t do that. Instead, you make the most of it by continually improving your skills.

You can take classes, attend workshops, or just read to stay up-to-date on industry trends. That’s how you increase the value you offer to potential partners and customers, compounding your leverage over time.

Lead by Example

You can’t afford to have two different sets of parameters, one for others and the other for yourself.

If you do, nobody will take you seriously.

Your actions set the tone for your effectiveness, accountability, and consistency with others. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, just like you, they too, would judge you by your actions and not your words.

That’s why you can’t go wrong by leading by example and being the person you would bet on.

Otherwise, why would extraordinary people offer you a chair if they don’t believe you have the intent and ability to produce extraordinary results?

In a perfect world, being good enough should be enough to push you up the ladder. But that’s not the world we live in, do we?

Here, you also have to be able to package yourself in a way that they can’t miss you.

While the packaging is crucial for making the initial impression, earning loyal returning customers is more about the substance — and not the plastic sheet.

So if you don’t want to be replaced, don’t just pretend, but become the most reliable person in the room.