My Daddy always said he never met a stranger and I believe he truly looked at life that way. He was comfortable talking with anyone; it didn’t matter who they were. Claude Castleberry was one of fifteen children my grandparents raised, so there was always a crowd around him. Actually, my grandmother raised one of my cousins too and I thought as I was growing up that she was my aunt.
Back to Daddy. He once told me about when he owned a dry cleaning store. Daddy always had a business; he was an entrepreneur before we used that word in East Tennessee. Daddy told me sometimes it would take him a long time to get to know a person well enough before they would trust him to do their dry cleaning. He told me he drove his van by this old man’s house for six months and stopped and talked with him every time he found him sitting out on his porch. One day, the old man finally asked Daddy to take his hat and clean it for him. Daddy knew how to build relationships.
Relationship building comes naturally for some people, but not for me. My personality was more like my Mom’s. I was reserved, quite and shy and learning to build relationships was a challenge for me. Over the years, I have developed my skills and here are some of the things I did to learn what my Daddy was born with.
- Take baby steps. Talking with people I didn’t know was frightening for me, so I decided to make myself speak to at least one person on my way from the parking lot into my office each morning. I increased the numbers as I became more comfortable and expanded to include all the trips between the office and my car.
- More baby steps. I decided to start talking with people at the grocery store. The check-out clerks were my first hurdle. I wanted to get to know their names and ask about their families and where they were going to school. I now know the store managers too.
- Join a professional or business organization. My office was a member of the local Chamber, so I decided to attend some of the networking events to get to know folks in the business community. At first, I didn’t know what do to at these functions and becoming a wallflower was easy. I needed a way to make myself talk with people. I devised a game to play and that made the events a challenge for me and fun. Here’s the game – put a handful of your business cards in your left jacket pocket. As you are talking with folks and find the opportunity, exchange business cards with them. Put their card in your right pocket. Empty your left pocket and you are ready to go home.
Those three steps sure helped me and hopefully that will give you some ideas to get you started building relationships. Susan RoAne has two excellent books you could use as additional resources: How to Work a Room and What Do I Say Next? I recommend putting them in your personal library.
Once you have talked with folks and begun to broaden your network, you need to work on building the connections you have with them. Collecting business cards is not enough. You need to stay in contact with your new friends. Follow up with each person periodically and nurture that relationship. Start thinking about how you can connect your new friends with each other.
As a little girl, I remember when Daddy was building houses. He was a general contractor and was building mainly “starter homes”. It wasn’t uncommon for me to run through the kitchen and find a young couple sitting at our kitchen table drinking coffee and talking with Daddy about the home they wanted. Daddy always said he built homes not houses. This was true when you got to know how we went about it.
Daddy would talk with the folks and get to know what they wanted in their home, get to know their dreams. He would sketch out on a paper napkin the floor plan and they would all shake hands and the deal was complete. Daddy built relationships around our kitchen table.
Business Developer & Community Relations Professional