Better Business Relationships

This book review of Better Business Relationships by Paul English of Grant Thornton appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Professional Marketing magazine

Kim Tasso reminds us early on in her book that while no one teaches you about relationships, nearly every aspect of business life demands effective relationships skills. True enough. If you can create exceptional connections with your teams and your markets, you gain genuine advantage. This may explain why I jumped ahead to the section on “How to be liked”.

While this book may not ‘teach’ you how to build relationships, it certainly shines a light on the wide range of factors and considerations that are at play across the relationship lifecycle – from handling first meetings to dealing with conflict and difficult behaviour.

The style of the book is a curation of concepts and frameworks blended with everyday practical insights. With a nice clear structure and short and snappy sections, the book feels accessible and digestible. One example being “Bullying, control freaks and stubbornness”, which having worked in professional services for 15 years didn’t seem that relevant..(ahem). Or “Why relationships go wrong” – something we could all write our own book on.

The book starts in a sensible place with a focus on understanding self and understanding others, and the importance of being able to manage differences in styles. It then explores dimensions of managing change and adaptation and effective communication. Unusually for business books, the second half of the book gets stronger as it moves into relationship formation and conflict management, plus an exploration of “Internal relationships” and “External relationships” and selling.

Kim has hand-picked models and references that are informative and cute. I’m still thinking about the four typologies of internal politics, and while I’d like to think I’m a Wise Owl, I may turn out to be an Inept Donkey. “Relationships are about people. So, before you get onto business matters it helps if you get on as people.” In a cross border and virtual business environment, this can be a real challenge. In many cultures around the world, it can be very difficult to get traction and buy-in to even the best ideas, if you haven’t invested in the relationship first. Once trust is established, everything accelerates but this can be hard to do when you are thousands of miles away.

Which brings me onto the reference to “Working in a Digital World” in the book’s subtitle. There is some good coverage of the implications of digitisation for relationships, but I would have liked to go deeper into this new area. I did pick up a new acronym, IRL (In Real Life), which delineates between the physical and cyber worlds. What percentage of your relationships are principally managed IRL?

So back to the question of “How to be liked”. Likeability guru Dale Carnegie is quoted in Kim’s book as saying, “You can win more business in two months by being interested in other people than in two years trying to be interesting.” And I do think that better business relationships begin with empathy. Listening with genuine interest and seeking to understand before seeking to be understood. Themes that run right through this book.

Paul English – Grant Thornton International

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