What John Maxwell Taught Me About Building Relationships

In John Maxwell’s “Winning with People,” he says good relationships are the foundation for achievement. Relationships are more than just the icing on the cake in life: They are the cake – the very substance we need to live successful and fulfilling lives. One of the key skills leaders need to learn is how to build trust. Maxwell shares five key principles that will help you improve your trust-ability with your direct reports, colleagues, and bosses.


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The Bedrock Principle

Developing trust is like constructing a building. It takes time, and it must be done one piece at a time. As in construction, it’s much quicker and easier to tear something down than it is to build it up. But if the foundation is strong, there is a good chance that what is built upon it will stand.

If you desire to build your trust-ability – and as a result, our relationships – remember:

  • Trust Begins with Yourself. If you are not honest with yourself, you will not be capable of honesty with others. Self-deception is the enemy of relationships.
  • Trust Cannot be Compartmentalized. Many people today try to compartmentalize their lives. They believe they can cut corners or compromise their values in one area of life and it won’t affect another area. But character doesn’t work that way. And neither does trust.
  • Trust Works Like a Bank Account: Mike Abrashoff, author of It’s Your Ship, states, “Trust is like a bank account – you have got to keep making deposits if you want it to grow. On occasion, things will go wrong, and you will have to make a withdrawal. Meanwhile, it is sitting in the bank earning interest.”

The Situation Principle

Never let the situation mean more than the relationship. It is more rewarding to resolve a situation than to dissolve a relationship. Whenever we experience a rough time in a relationship, we need to remind ourselves of why that relationship is significant to us in the first place. Also, we must keep in mind that there is a big difference between a situation that occurs once and one that occurs again and again.

The Bob Principle

If Bob has problems with Bill, and Bob has problems with Fred, and Bob has problems with Sue, and Bob has problems with Jane, and Bob has problems with Sam, then Bob is usually the problem. Every problem starter is like a fire lighter. And each of us is like a person carrying two buckets. One is filled with water and the other with gasoline. When we see a problem fire being lit, we can choose to douse it with water and put it out, or we can throw gasoline on it and make it worse.

Use the other person to THINK before he speaks using the acronym:

  • T     Is it true?
  • H    Is it helpful?
  • I      Is it inspiring?
  • N     Is it necessary?
  • K     Is it kind?

If he can answer yes to all of these questions, then it’s appropriate for him to proceed.

The Approachability Principle

Being at ease with ourselves helps other be at ease with us. People miss incredible opportunities to connect with others because they do not make themselves approachable. Here’s seven characteristics of an approach leader:

  • Personal warmth. Approach people truly like people and generate personal warmth toward the people they meet.
  • Appreciation for the differences in people. Approach people appreciate people for who they are and what they have to offer.
  • Consistency of mood. Approachable people are even-keeled and predictable. You know what you’ll get because they are basically the same every time you seen them.
  • Sensitivity toward people’s feelings. They tune in to the moods and feelings of others, and then adjust how they relate to them.
  • Understanding of human weaknesses and exposure of their own. Approachable people are honest about their abilities and shortcomings.
  • Ability to forgive easily and quickly ask for forgiveness.
  • Authenticity. Approachable people are real. They engage with others on a genuine level.

The Foxhole Principle

We face many kinds of battles in life, and the “foxholes” we sometimes inhabit come in many shapes and sizes. These foxholes can include the home, a business, a small group a platoon or something else. When preparing for a battle, dig a hole big enough for a friend. The foxhole is for you and a friend, not a friend alone. You can ask a friend to fight with you, but you should never send someone else to fight your battles. You might have friends, but not all of them will be foxhole friends. Foxhole friends are special and even before the battle, simply knowing that someone believes in you and will fight for you is uplifting.