One Simple Way to Build Better Professional Relationships

Remember the oft-quoted cliche? It’s not just what you know that makes a difference; it’s who you know. In business and life, relationship is everything.

Sounds so pedestrian, but it’s so true. I consider myself in the people business. My vision is to raise up a new breed of leaders who steward their calling to turn the world right side up. If I don’t serve, connect, and network with people, everything I do is is vain.

In Tommy Spaulding’s It’s Not Just Who You Know, the author categorizes relationships into five floors of a building and identifies key attributes to each floor of relationship. Most imporatantly, he suggest key actions required to build a lasting, genuine relationship at the highest level.


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To be clear, relationships seldom fit into a box. What I like about this model is that it gives a framework around the boundaries that define relationships. In your own relationships, you’ll notice how it’s far more dynamic and see how some relationships might overlap on different floors and others might seem to move up and down like an elevator. Let me be clear – relationships seldom fit neatly into a box (or a building). They’re far too dynamic. Some overlap on different floors, and others seem to move up and down floors like an elevator.

1. First Floor Relationships – “Meet and Greet” 

Everything in this floor is transactional by  nature. We exchange business cards. You might even say “Hi, how are you doing today?” as simply a rhetorical question without really expecting much of an answer. The other might response as “Fine, I’m doing well” even though the person is experiencing an imminent death in a family or being anxious about an unpaid debt. Here, after you get what you want, you simply move on, with no giving nor commitment.

2. Second Floor Relationships – “NSW”

This floor is about sharing some informational. (aka. NSA relationships). You talk about News, Sports. Weather. You seldom move beyond the superficial or topical. At work, most of these relationships come due to positional authority. You might see this play out in casual relationships and acquaintances, most boss-employee relationships; peers in unrelated departments, people you encounter at parties or functions whom you know causally. Many people consider these “close” friends, but in reality, they are only on the second floor. A big reason is because you don’t risk being vulnerable or take emotional risks.

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3. Third Floor Relationships – “Emotional Comfort”

On the third floor of relationships, you feel safe to voice your opinions.  Here you learn more about lives of co-workers, vendors, clients, and you begin to understand them as a person behind the facade. You learn how to encounter the “wall of conflict.” Relationships often stall here because the inevitable conflict acts as a locked door to the staircase leading up. But, this also creates an enormous opportunity to foster the type of relationships that goes at deeper level. For the most part, however, such relationships are relatively superficial and kept at arm’s length.

4. Fourth Floor Relationships – “Real, Same-Page Connection”

By the time you’ve reached the fourth floor, your relationships has taken on a deeper and more significant meaning. You learn to share common interests, goals, beliefs and learn how to deal with conflict. You see an increase of trust and relationships as the relationship leads to greater vulnerability and openness. You might confide that your marriage is failing, discuss sensitive details about your sins, and share your dreams and fears. Of course, you might not share everything but you don’t worry how others might perceive you. You dropped your guards. Some examples might include, mentors, good friends, close colleagues, people you care about in your job, industry, or church.

5. Penthouse (Fifth Floor) Relationships – “Shared Empathy”

Spaulding calls this the Penthouse of relationships. On this floor, vulnerability, authenticity, trust, and loyalty are off the charts. This floor of relationship is marked by shared empathy – an intuitive understanding of each other’s needs, even those that aren’t necessarily expressed. You literally “feel” another person’s state of mind. They have become your confidants, advisers, and cheerleaders who know you inside out. This level is uncommon since it requires an incredible amount of time and energy required to develop and maintain such relationships.

But How…?

But how do you do it, you might ask. How do you grow a relationship from the First Floor to the Second Floor? Or the Third Floor? Or the Fifth Floor? For many people, of course, therein lies the big, brick wall with no obvious doors or windows.

The answer? Relentless communication.

Spaulding says, “Relentless communication is an intentional practice. It’s playing offense, not just sitting back and playing defense. It’s not something that just happens—you have to make it happen. If you want to relentlessly communicate, there’s nothing wrong with cell phones and e-mails. I send and receive more than a hundred text messages and e-mails every day. I’m the poster boy for “Crackberry” addiction. But sometimes it’s the personal touches that set you apart from others and create the greatest opportunities for lasting relationships.”

He uses handwritten notes as one form of relentless communication. He has a friend in Minnesota who puts American flags in the yards of his clients every year on the Fourth of July. Another friend gives pumpkins to each of his clients on Halloween.

Think of communication in terms of impact. There’s a hierarchy. Text < Email < Phone Call < Handwritten note < A gift with handwritten note < Hand-delivering a note along with a gift

You don’t have to send twenty handwritten notes a week, but why not send five? Or find other ways to uniquely express your thanks to the people you know.