High-Value Relationships tm: The Economics of Connecting with People

by Jim Cathcart
copyright 2008

If you spend 20 minutes each week with John you get four referrals a month, three great new business ideas, you feel better about yourself and you have a great time. If you spend 20 minutes with him only once every three months you get virtually nothing by comparison. Would you not agree that there is an actual, tangible, financial value to advancing your relationship with John?

If you have dinner twice a month with Mary you have a lot of laughs, but you also pick up some of her cynicism. She uses put-down humor almost exclusively and, though it is funny, a steady diet of it will color your own mindset. So, like with comedians George Carlin and Don Rickles, their humor is good for an occasional laugh but a constant exposure to it is detrimental to your emotional well-being. The same can be said of many information sources and entertainment types. If it is uplifting, inspiring and encouraging, you will notice the effect. If on the other hand it is cynical, critical and sarcastic, so will you become. What we “feed” on most will ultimately show up in our own behavior and attitudes.

There is a cost to bad input and a value to good input. You and I are in control of who we spend our discretionary time with. I believe we should choose intentionally and consciously, and not just accept things by default. There are billions of people on Earth with whom you could cultivate a relationship. There are dozens or maybe hundreds with whom you already have the beginnings of a relationship. So, as the investor of your time and energy, where do you think the smart investment of your time should go?

Some say that intention has no place in a genuine relationship. I disagree. All of our relationships are intentional in some ways. I recommend that we become more conscious of it. A relationship is a connection between people in which there is an element of trust. The higher the trust the greater the relationship. If you want a relationship in which you can “just be yourself” then you will need a high-trust relationship. But…what does it mean to “be yourself”?

Does it mean to be able to follow your impulses without restraint? If so you are leaving open some pretty unpleasant possibilities.
Does it mean being able to think out loud? Then you’d better have much trust. As Emerson said, “A friend is one with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.” But even in high-trust relationships there is some restraint.

I have found that we “edit” ourselves in all of our relationships, at least to some degree. We choose not to say things that might leave the wrong impression or be misinterpreted. We omit observations that might be offensive or hurtful to others. We refrain from yelling “Fire!” while in a crowded theater, etc. So, technically, we are never “just being ourselves” but rather we are making at least some effort to be our “best self” as much as we can.

Now, back to the value of our relationships. The more we can generate trust with others the more possibilities we will have before us. The person with the most trust among others usually prevails. This is true in politics, in business and in day to day relations with neighbors. With more trust you get “the benefit of the doubt” and without it you get second-guessed at every turn.

As I’m fond of quoting, my friend Kevin Buck says, “Trust is a fruit. You can’t grow it directly. You cultivate the plant and it produces the fruit in its own time.” The relationship is the plant. When we nurture and cultivate the relationship then the trust will emerge “in its own time.”

Conclusion: when we become more conscious of the value of relationships in our lives we take our connections more seriously.
When we take our connections more seriously we become more intentional about who we spend time with, how we spend that time and how we conduct ourselves while we are there. The happy result of all this is that we get greater rewards just like in my example of meeting with John for 20 minutes each week.

Now examine the relationships in your life. Just list them all. Yes, all of them. Take some blank paper and just start listing everyone you know. This could take some time so don’t worry about doing it all in one sitting. Give yourself a week or so and keep adding to the list each day. Each name will remind you of others, and even of some people whose name you don’t know or recall, e.g. the guy who always greets me at the information counter. Just list them.

The easiest way to generate this list is to create groupings first. Develop a set of groupings that they would naturally belong to: family, friends from church, from sports, from school, coworkers, neighbors, customers, etc. Note which people go into each group. Then just brainstorm and list everyone you can think of.

Now “NOTICE MORE”, reflect on your lists and notice who you spend the most time with. List those people on a separate page.

From an interpersonal perspective, the people you spend the most time with are the essence of your life’s experience at this time.
If you were to change the mix of people or the amount of time with them, you’d actually alter your life.
Hmmmmm. Give that some thought.
You could actually change your life by altering the mix of people you associate with most frequently.

I believe that it is incumbent upon us to direct our life instead of just experiencing it. The more intentional we become the more we will tend to get what we want. So, who should you be spending more time with? Less time? No time?
Who do you need to meet in order to expand your potential?

Your relationships are valuable to you. Whether their value is high or low is in your hands.


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Filed under Behavioral Economics, High-Value Relationships

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