As an entrepreneur, strong relationships open doors and empower you to succeed. When you are getting started, you're constantly calling on your network for help. To do that successfully without straining the ties, you need to make sure that you are giving as much as you receive.
As you work hard to make connections that will help your business grow, you can unwittingly slide into selfish relationships, often with the best of intentions. Others will rarely tell you directly if you're taking more than you're giving, so you need to watch for signs.
The most common sign is avoidance. "It can be difficult to tell someone that they expect more than they give, so [people will make] excuses about being too busy to avoid a potential conflict," says Marilyn Belleghem, an Ontario-based business relationship consultant. If people stop returning your messages or start saying they're too busy for you, that change can indicate that they're not benefiting from the relationship.
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More subtly, you might sense that you're struggling to make a connection or you're doing all the talking. Or, you might draw a blank when you ask yourself what others need or what you've done recently for them.
We're all guilty of taking more than we give sometimes and a simple reminder may be all we need to get our relationships back in balance. To become a more generous business leader, here's what you can do:
1. Learn more about the person. When a relationship is all business, people can start to feel used. Take the time to get to know someone before you ask for support. Learn what they're struggling with, what they're interested in, and what they're working toward.
"Feeling that you really care about being in the relationship creates trust," Belleghem says. A foundation of trust and understanding helps you offer appropriate support and makes others more likely to recommend you to people they know.
2. Share your successes. After someone helps you out, always follow up. Tell them how their help led to success for your business, thank them, and let them know they made a difference. Keeping them in the loop shows that you're generous with your success, welcoming others to be part of it.
"Sharing successes is important to maintain cooperative relationships," Belleghem says. If the other person feels good about what they did to help you, that positivity will inspire them to help you again in the future.
3. Ask what you can do to help. Whenever you meet with someone in your network, ask what you can do for them. It doesn't matter if you are less established -- the offer is what counts. "People make deals where there is a win/win," Belleghem says. "Good deals create good relationships."
You know your network and expertise better than anyone else, so listen for ways that you could help as others describe their goals or struggles. You might put them in touch with a contact, offer to help with a skill-based task, or simply think through a problem with them. Ultimately, a healthy business relationship has a balance of give and take.
Related: How to Build a Support Network
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.