Why relationship building is the number-one skill for 2020 (and the next decade)

These nine key factors to building strong, trust-based relationships for thriving at work and life were written at the beginning of 2020. In a time of crisis, they prove more true than ever.

Strong relationships are vital to a healthy career. When we can’t make real connections with others in the workplace, they won’t feel loyal to us. We become tradable commodities. When times get tough, we may be the first ones pushed out the door.

On the other hand, when we have a small group of close professional relationships we’re able to get our ideas recognized and supported. We’re able to be successful leaders. We’re able to collaborate and innovate effectively and serve our clients in the way they deserve.

Trust is the foundation of strong relationships – yet it’s often noticeably absent from our culture. Over the last few decades, nearly every measure of trust has declined. According to the creator of the masterclass Building Relationships that Matter, this trust deficit and our professional relationship woes have grown in tandem with the rise of the internet – and they’ve crept in so insidiously we may not have realized it was happening.

“The normalizing of digital relationships has masked the weakness of many professionals’ face-to-face relationship-building skills,” Sobel says. “This is especially true for younger professionals who have grown up on a steady diet of online ‘friends’ and connections and are less schooled in the art of face-to-face relationship-building.”

The ability to build trusted professional relationships should never be left to chance, Sobel says. We must get intentional about learning and practicing the attitudes and skills that allow us to build the 15-25 trusted relationships that matter to our careers. (Contrast this to the hundreds of “surface” online connections people seem obsessed with racking up.)

Through 20 years of research and extensive experience working with more than 50,000 professionals, Sobel has identified nine attitudes and skills that allow us to build solid, trust-based relationships. Here they are, along with how to begin implementing them in your day-to-day relationships.

If you’re looking for a new skill, here you go: Work on boosting your relationship IQ by focusing on these nine attitudes and skills in 2020.

1. Generosity

If trust is the universal lubricant for relationships, generosity is the fuel that gets them started and keeps them growing. Sobel describes it as the willingness to give freely of your time, expertise, experience, and social capital. In other words, it’s not just about giving money (which is what most of us think of); it’s often about being willing to forgive someone who has hurt you or being happy for other people’s good fortunes.

“Most of us aren’t as generous in practice as we’d like to be,” says Sobel. “We have a ‘me’ focus. Sometimes this is due to a lack of role models. Other times it’s a fear of being taken advantage of. We need to strengthen our generosity muscle by taking small, daily steps.”

For practice: Think about someone in your professional network who has experienced a success or positive development in their life. Speak to them in person, call them up, or write a short note (ideally, not an email or text). Express your admiration and how excited you are for them.

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