Relationships – a key to success

We were taking a break in a workshop and the regional manager met me in the corridor. ‘How’s Jim going?’ he whispered.

‘He’s doing okay.’

‘He’s got a problem talking with clients. We had one ring the other day and say, ‘Don’t send him again, we just can’t relate to him.’

Jim was a well-qualified engineer, but now his boss was seeing him as someone to be hidden away from clients and much less valuable to the company. Some of his colleagues had come into the workshop, shaken my hand with a welcoming grin, asked me about my flight and the workshop ahead, then engaged those around them in conversation until it was time to start. Jim and a couple of others went straight to their seats and barely acknowledged even their colleagues.

I see the same contrast in relationship-building skills with sales people. Our firm has a long standing relationship with Chris who sells us computers and attends to our more complex software problems. He impressed us from the start with his questions about our needs.

How would we use our new computers? Would we be using graphics programmers? Which ones? His rivals just did a pitch – one of them very loudly, to show his enthusiasm for the product. Chris quietly advises us out of buying the deluxe model when the standard model will meet our needs just as well.

We trust him. For businesses, relationship-building skills are the key to exponential growth.

Trust is a common thread for all strong relationships, whether commercial, collegial, friendly, family or romantic, but all healthy relationships share several other threads too.

Starting and building relationships


The research confirms what you might have suspected: Opposites don’t attract very often. We find people who seem just like us far more attractive and studies of couples have shown that we are attracted to people who are similar in many ways, including social status, attitudes, nationality, age, intelligence, height and even eye colour.2 Studies of dating couples have also shown that they had similar attitudes on sex roles and sexual behaviour and the stronger that similarity, the greater the chance of them still being a couple a year later.

While there’s little evidence for opposites attracting, it can happen when the needs are complementary such as when people who need to be the dominant partner meet people who prefer to be relatively more submissive, but researchers have decided that it’s usually the common factors that keep them together.

Here’s the not quite-so-good news for most of us: Looks do count in starting relationships, and not just romantic relationships. Perhaps you always thought they did, but in surveys taken many decades apart, most people didn’t rank physical attractiveness very high on the list of reasons for liking others.4 So, people say they don’t start relationships based on looks, but the research shows they do.

An interesting experiment with first-year university students suggested that looks were everything – for both men and women. Psychologists at the University of Minnesota invited the students to a dance and told them that a computer would match them up with a ‘date’ with the same interests.

During the interview that was supposed to be about their interests, the researchers were actually assessing them for physical attractiveness, intelligence, personality and social skills.

Then they paired the dance partners randomly. During a break in the dance they asked the students to fill out an anonymous questionnaire about their date to tell them how well the computer had ‘matched’ them. I.Q., personality and social skills had nothing to do with their ratings of the date’s likeability. In this study, physical attractiveness alone was the best way to predict how satisfied the partners were with their dates.

We don’t even need to see people to be influenced by their attractiveness. In a revealing study, three psychologists asked men to talk to a woman on the telephone to help them with a study on ‘how people become acquainted with each other’.

Before the telephone call they showed each caller a photograph, supposedly of the woman they would talk to. All the men spoke to the same woman, but half were given photographs of a very attractive woman and the others a relatively unattractive woman.

And as you’ll have guessed, those who thought they were speaking to a particularly attractive woman rated her poise, sense of humor and social skills higher than those who thought they were talking to someone who looked more ordinary

Starting and building relationships

It seems that being good-looking is an advantage that starts early. Karen Dion and colleagues from the University of Minnesota asked undergraduate women students to consider the cases of five and six year olds who were said to have misbehaved.

A small photograph accompanied the outline of the children’s misdeeds. The researchers reported that the women were much more likely to rate the less attractive children as more dishonest and unpleasant. They also tended to believe that what the good-looking kids had done wasn’t really too serious and when asked to predict their future decided that the attractive ones were more likely to have happy marriages and be more successful in their professional lives.

Psychologists say there’s some evidence that physically attractive people also have more attractive personalities. It’s hardly surprising. If they are treated better than everyone else, it’s natural that they should assume that the world is full of friendly, encouraging people. It may not be just, but it’s bound to help


If starting relationships on good looks seems shallow, it gets worse. An analysis of many studies, large and small, and across cultures, suggests the women are most interested in a man’s resources or potential to earn.

One study showed that physically attractive women tended to weaken men’s commitment to their current partners. Physically attractive men didn’t shake the women’s confidence in their relationships, but men of high status and wealth did

So what should humans do to attract a mate? If they follow David Schmitt’s findings published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, women should make themselves as physically attractive as possible and not bother criticizing their competitors, because that’s ineffective. Men should display their intelligence, status and wealth,

or at least their earning potential. They should disparage their competitors because, apparently for men, it works.

American researchers have added a useful qualification: that we need to make a distinction between the necessities of attractiveness and earning power, and luxuries. Compare the necessities to water and oxygen. If we didn’t have them, we would want them – we’d really want them. But most of us have plenty of both, so we’re more focused on other things. We only need so much attractiveness or earning power in a potential mate and that still leaves us with plenty of choice, so we start looking for relative luxuries. The same study found that intelligence and kindness rated as necessities.

(Feeling better about being human now?) Luxuries included creativity and liveliness, but could be anything else that we value in a potential mate.


The research shows that being similar in even trivial ways makes us more likable and finding common points of interest, shared experiences and shared opinions builds a bond. In the beginnings of a relationship, give information away as you gently probe for more about the other person’s interests.


Let’s imagine that you’re the new employee. You’re now in the staff cafeteria and amongst the blur of heads, you notice vacant seats at a table in the corner. The one person already sitting there is facing the window as you arrive, a closed book in front of him.

How do you get to know him? Try giving information away, using open questions, finding things you have in common and picking up on what the other person is saying. Maybe something like this…

  • You: ‘Hi. I’m new here. Is it always this difficult to find a seat? (Greeting, giving information away and reference to something you have in common.
  • Colleague: ‘Yes. Usually. It’s not so bad if you can get here before 12.30’.
  • You: ‘That might be difficult. (Nodding at a book on raising children.) I haven’t read that one; what do you think of it? (Giving information way, picking up on visual cue, open question.
  • Colleague: ‘Quite helpful. Some useful ideas. We’ve got two. The younger one’s at Kindergarten.’ (Giving information away)
  • You: ‘Our son’s just turned three. He could go to Kindergarten soon. What are your impressions of it?’ (Giving information away.

Picking up on a shared interest in children. Open question.)
When the person you are meeting is giving information away, you have a cue to continue. Follow up with an open question. If you don’t get that cue, or the body language suggests the person is unwilling to talk, ease back.

Giving information away without being asked is a valuable way to open up a relationship, but follow-up with an open question so that you don’t end up dominating the conversation. Disclosing information gives you both an opportunity to pick up on points of common interest.

So this is the first part i hope you love this 🙂

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