I was in Istanbul last week for a bit of work and visit with the family from the old country. At the request of my parents, we stayed at a quaint little hotel fairly central to the hustle and bustle of the city. If you haven’t visited that part of the world, a) I would highly recommend it, and b) Istanbul in particular has an abundance of energy, old world charm, and new world amenities.

The trip, also reminded me of a handful of ideas that I think are important to personal and professional relationships:

1. Brand Matters More Than Ever – We’ve known for some time the incredible value of brands. That notion is really heightened, when you travel. If I stay at a Marriott or a Hilton hotel, I have certain expectations of the experience. Our little hotel (think a quaint B&B with great potential) hadn’t invested in the infrastructure needs of 2013 travelers. Internet access was slow, the AC unit was older, no gym or access to a fitness facility, dry cleaning took two days, etc. Customers of all types have certain expectations of their future experiences, from their past interactions (I still remember being a kid, traveling and seeing street signs advertised by some hotels for”Color TV or HBO!”). How well do you know the relationships you need to succeed and their expectations of the relationship with you? What brand promises are you making to your relationships and what are you doing daily to deliver on those promises to build brand equity? Don’t forget, your name is your biggest brand asset and you have to find ways to constantly reinvent yourself not to become irrelevant to your relationships!

2. You’ll Get Further With Honey Than Vinegar – I don’t remember where I heard that expression so many years ago, but it conveys that it’s easier to get what you want with kindness, calm, and in a collected manner than ranting & raving. Particularly when it comes to intracompany relationships, sure, some work gets done because of hierarchical authority. But what about cross functional or more peer-level work? Others will only prioritize work that’s important to your efforts when they’ve had a chance to get to know you, hopefully like you, and feel that they can trust you! Despite several issues with our hotel room, I worked hard last week to build a relationship with the front desk and they went out of their way to help us. I could’ve easily gone downstairs, yelled, hollered, demanded to see the manager, and unfortunately acted like many angry Americans do when traveling abroad. Be firm and consistent but kill your relationships with kindness. Don’t take one situation as the holistic impression of the other side, company, or the brand.

3. Your Responses To a Problem Speaks Volumes – If you didn’t make mistakes, you wouldn’t be human. Avoiding mistakes with solid hiring, great training & development, metrics, compensation, etc. is important. But what you, your team, and your organization chooses to do about a mistake or a problem, says a lot about your culture, brand, vision of the leadership, and whether you’re in the transaction or a relationship business! Our hotel staff worked hard to resolve each issue including installing new internet equipment and moving us to a different room when available. Empower your people to make things right. Take the high road when a problem arises and develop a culture of accountability. You also have to learn from every interaction to improve the next experience. Although I wasn’t crazy about the hotel experience, I was grateful for the staff and their attitude to help, overcome, recover, repair, and deliver service with a smile.

4. Great Conversations are The Foundation of Relationships – One of the more fun experiences last week was a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus River. It’s a very communal experience where you sit at a long dinner table surrounded by others you don’t know. By the way, have you noticed how easy it has become for all of us to “disengage” when we travel? Think about your last flight – most people put on their noise cancelling headphones or dive right into their paper, book, or laptop and seldom talk to the person next to them for the entire flight! We began the dinner cruise just talking amongst ourselves. But noticed a very nice, young couple sitting next to us. The shy, quiet person that I am :-), I decided to reach out and just say hello. When traveling abroad, you never know if the people next to you speak English or not so that’s often my first interaction. We ended up meeting this lovely newlywed couple from Pakistan (Sana and Zulfiqar) – both fluent in English, professionals back in Karachi with family in the States and Canada! We spent the rest of the cruise together laughing about our cultural similarities, sharing stories about our parents, even dancing a bit (it’s been a while since I’ve danced with my mom!!). We exchanged contact info and agreed for them to visit the US and me Pakistan on the next trip that way. Language is incredibly important, which leads to great conversations, which helps build the foundation for strong relationships. How often do you reach out to strangers to simply say hello? How effectively are you engaging and influencing your relationships with your most valuable asset: language and the power of conversations?

5. Sometimes, Strategic Relationships Are Serendipitous! If you’ve read any of my material or have ever heard me speak about Relationship Economics, I reference three types of relationships: personal, functional, and strategic. Most people have plenty of the first and second types but rarely have I met people who have sufficient number of the third. You see, strategic relationships elevate your thinking, performance, execution and results. I’m often asked, “How or where do you meet strategic relationships?” Although there are several strategies I integrate into a speech or most of my consulting or coaching engagements, sometimes, they really are spontaneous. You just have to be savvy enough to a) be open to them, b) nurture them, and c) follow-through (a process vs. follow-up, which is a transaction). During a speaking engagement in Monaco, I met a business executive from Istanbul. We had a good conversation, I mentioned I was going to be in Istanbul the following week and we exchanged cards with a casual reference to reconnecting over a cup of Turkish coffee. When I arrived in Istanbul and knew my schedule a little better, pinged him via email and we firmed up lunch. The lunch turned out to be several hours (most international meals are…) and we both left excited about working together with specific next steps. Although early, the relationship seems very promising and strategic for both sides!

Don’t forget the rule of three in any initial interaction: develop rapport, establish your credibility through the questions you ask, and determine next steps if any. That’s it!

Bonus: Get out of your office and travel! Unfortunately less than 35 percent of Americans have passports and many have never traveled outside of their state, much less the country. Travel opens our minds and hearts to incredible new experiences. They’re also wonderful for learning first hand that the rest of the world, builds relationships FIRST, from which they do business. Unfortunately, many of us in North America are so used to the business part that IF and ONLY IF the business part works, we’ll think about building a relationship! Hence the disconnect when we walk into situations where the other party doesn’t look, sound, or engage in the same manner we do!

Make it a great week.

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