How to Be Intentional About Building Authentic Relationships

by Osato Evbuomwan

I’ve always baulked at the idea of networking because whenever I hear the word, what comes to mind is a nightmarish speed-dating scene where you meet people faster than you can remember their names. At the same time, I appreciate the importance of curating and expanding my support network, but I prefer to do it in a way that is true to the person I am.

Often, with traditional networking, many people are focused on finding out what others do, which organisations they work for and what kind of business they are involved in. And I get it; there might be opportunities for collaboration, job changes and even business contracts. However, the problem with this approach, at least for me, is that these people too quickly become just contacts — a number on your phone or a business card in your wallet that remains untouched.

When I meet people, I’m looking for connection, a sense of kinship, evidence of shared values and common interests. I am interested in who people are, not what they can do for me. This is not to say that I don’t care about what they do — I do, but I am more curious about the why, because for me, that gives a better sense of who they are and their potential to fit within my circle.

Without connection, any kind of relationship is, at best, superficial and will probably not stand the test of time.

To build genuine connections, you must show up authentically. You have to let yourself be seen, and not just physically. You have to be willing to be vulnerable, to be “imperfect”, to take a chance on letting people in. Too often, we pose, put our guard up and try to create a certain impression. We hide the parts of ourselves that are unflattering and sometimes simply retreat into our shells. The fact is, this gets in the way of building genuine and meaningful relationships and finding “our people”. It gets in the way of connection. Without connection, any kind of relationship is, at best, superficial and will probably not stand the test of time.

So, how can you be intentional about creating, nurturing and leveraging authentic relationships to support your journey? These are some things I do that have helped me stay true to myself and build a robust support system:

Focus on connections, not contacts

Think about the strength of your circle, not its size.

Having a powerful network is not about the number of people you know. Some might argue that it is about who you know. That’s important, but I believe what’s more important is how solid the relationships you have with others are and whether or not you have similar values or enough common ground to stand on. If each time you interact with them, you feel like you get to know them a little better, your relationships are probably progressing. Think about the strength of your circle, not its size.

Photo by Ian Schneider via Unsplash

Be curious about people’s stories

Go beyond small talk and be intentional about asking questions.

Everyone has a story and some unique experiences that shape them. We can only truly connect with people if we are open to understanding who they are and why they are the way they are. Go beyond small talk and be intentional about asking questions that reveal insights about a person. Show interest in their passions and find out what matters to them. Is it family, adventure, growth? If so, why? Which childhood memories left indelible marks on them, what lessons have they learnt and how have they shaped their choices? By asking more profound questions, you increase your chances of finding kindred spirits and you gain a strong base for whatever type of relationship you choose to pursue with them.

Share parts of yourself too

Dare to be vulnerable.

You have to be careful who you trust with your story, but you can start with small but real truths about yourself and see how people react to them. Consider if they respect your story and treat it with confidentiality. Observe whether or not they validate your emotions and if they offer to share a similar truth or experience with you when you dare to be vulnerable. Be open about your flaws , but clear about your boundaries, and pay attention to how others respond to them. We can trust our intuition about people, but we also need to pick up the correct information to aid our discernment.

Your search doesn’t have to stray too far from home

Your “people’’ might be closer than you think.

They aren’t always distant LinkedIn contacts or famous personalities in your field, even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting your sights that far. However, you exist in interlinked circles, and you might find a pool of interesting people around you that you can tap into if you remain curious. Talk to someone new at work, church, school or even a neighbour.

Photo by Valiant Made via Unsplash

Be open to looking in ‘unconventional’ places too

You’d be surprised at what you might find!

The most authentic relationships sometimes come from the most unexpected places. Imagine a relationship between a CEO and a janitor; a writer and a café attendant; an investment banker and a bartender. As a senior manager, you may very well find that your direct report can be your “person”. Sometimes, remove status from the equation and be open-minded enough to see people as people. You’d be surprised at what you might find!

Be deliberate about nurturing the relationship

Let people feel seen and valued.

Reach out, keep the lines of communication open and show concern for people’s wellbeing. Remember dates or occasions that are important to them and make it a point to connect with them. Share content that you think they might be interested in — it shows that you pay attention when you interact with them. Offer to help them with something; don’t get caught only wanting things from them. Show appreciation. Support their successes. Be there when they need you to the extent that you can. As humans, we want to feel seen and valued, irrespective of position or social status, and we appreciate those who genuinely do this. It makes it easy to reciprocate any kind gestures.

Don’t force it. Not every relationship will work for you

If someone is not your “person”, they simply aren’t, and that’s okay.

You will not connect with every person you meet, and some people may not be willing to connect with you at a deeper level. You may also find that engaging with certain people leaves you feeling drained, dissatisfied or uncomfortable. You may discover that some people have behaviours that do not align with your values. Don’t be tempted to force relationships even when you have such encounters with people who may be influential or in senior positions. Know when to draw the line at “cordial” and when to move things along. If someone is not your “person”, they simply aren’t, and that’s okay.

In short, authenticity is the secret sauce for meaningful relationships. Do not compromise yours.

Osato Evbuomwan is a member of The Room and a Senior Marketing Manager at Unilever who is passionate about serving the African consumer. Creator of “The Talking Circle”, she is on a quest to cultivate a brave and safe space for conversations that challenge taboos and change mindsets.

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