This summer I had the rare treat of working down the hall from a public relations great, Pat Ford, vice chairman and chief client officer at Burson-Marsteller. The recipient of the Milestones in Mentoring Legacy Award from the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and recipient of 2016 Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Alexander Hamilton Medal, Mr. Ford knows a thing or two about building genuine relationships with mentees, clients and professionals around the world. He talks the talk, walks the walk and is a great person to look to for advice and valuable insight.
Here are his best suggestions for building genuine relationships with professionals, peers, mentors and, well, anyone:
1. “Be present.”
This is a growing challenge as we venture deeper into the age of devices and constant distraction.
“If you want to be effective at networking, wherever you are — be there completely,” said Ford. “This isn’t just a secret of networking, it’s one of the keys to life.”
“You shouldn’t be strictly networking for personal gain, but rather to build an actual relationship,” he said. “Show genuine appreciation for time and attention — and reciprocate it.”
(By the way, Pat and I Skyped for an hour catching up and chatting about this subject, during which he didn’t check his phone or email. If he can disconnect for an hour, you can, too.)
2. “Don’t make it about you.”
This applies to professionals, clients, family members and friends. Relationship building is a two-way street, and showing an interest in what the other person is doing helps build that foundation. Sometimes at conferences and various networking events, the inclination is to share every aspect about every experience you’ve had to impress whomever you’re speaking with.
“Suspend your agenda and focus on finding mutually beneficial framework,” said Ford. “Assume that if a relationship is developing, you will have ample opportunity to convey your key messages to the other person [the professional/mentor/client]. Make it happen naturally. Be a good listener and a smart question asker. Know their company, love their brands and go from there.”
3. “Be open and take chances!”
Meeting new people, especially mentors and professionals, can seem daunting, but being inquisitive and striking up a conversation with a speaker or professional can incite something great.
“This isn’t the high school dance,” Ford joked, “but seriously — don’t stick to the people you know on one side of the room. Invest time in getting out there and meeting others. After all, they are all there to network just as much as you are.”
This next one doesn’t necessarily fall under the “top 3,” but here is some food for thought Mr. Ford shared about navigating personal, professional and mentoring relationships: If you help others achieve their goals, you likely will achieve yours in the process. The key to all of this is to build genuine relationships without an agenda or motive other than an eagerness to learn.
Sarah Dougherty is the 2016–2017 vice president of career services and a senior at the University of Alabama. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgdougherty.