When was the last time you stopped to ask your colleague how their family was doing? When was the last time you truly cared? If you know anything about international business, you recognize the importance of cultural norms. Sometimes this means exchanging gifts, or having just the right type of handshake. Other times, it’s having dinner and drinks before any words about business are ever uttered. While the norms may vary, we can learn a lot from one that is widely accepted but not practiced nearly enough: truly getting to know those you’re doing business with. Or as one Afghan official once told me (at the Pentagon, pre-career coaching track): “friendship first, business later”.
I was shocked: Friendship? Who has time for friendship at a time like this?
As the day progressed, I came to understand the reasoning behind the Afghans’ approach. Over countless cups of tea, with a translator sitting between us, we built a trust that made the transition to the day’s negotiations much smoother.
Whether you’re negotiating with government officials or running a project team meeting, studies show that establishing friendship in the workplace increases teamwork, morale, communication and information sharing. Considering the importance of these factors in any environment, being likable at work doesn’t just shore up your popularity—it may actually shore up the company’s bottom line.
Here are a few steps you can take right now to implement the powerful “friendship first, business later” approach in your career, no matter your field.
Truly get to know your colleagues. As the Afghan official taught me, authentic connection is the key. Regardless of what type of business we’re engaged in, all work is driven by human need, desire, or interest. Therefore, connecting on a human level is critical. Check yourself—are you focused too much on you? Take that as an invitation to switch gears and focus on serving others.
Go out of your way to become a team player. Your willingness to do whatever is needed to get the job done is a surefire way to establish yourself as a comrade among your colleagues. That means manning the phones on a hectic day, making the midnight coffee run, or helping an overworked teammate tackle their workload, even if your paycheck and title suggest such jobs are “beneath” you. Successful people are willing to put in the work, but more importantly, they don’t consider themselves to be too good for anything or anyone.
Celebrate your colleagues’ talents. We all want to be acknowledged for our skills and attributes, especially in the workplace. Even if you aren’t the boss, showing your colleagues that you notice their unique brilliance is a surefire way to establish likeability, camaraderie, and trust. If you see that someone is exceptionally good at something, offer to take some work off their plate so you can free them up to make better use of their skill set.
Getting to know your colleagues on a personal level will take you far. After all, friendships are built on trust, and in the world of business, trust is a rare – and sought-after – phenomenon. So don’t make the mistake of purely focusing on business.
Start fostering relationships and watch your likeability, and your results, soar. Whether it’s listening to someone’s life story over 25 cups of tea or making copies for someone who’s running late for a presentation, don’t overlook those simple opportunities. However irrelevant they may seem to the task at hand, they’re actually paving the road for meaningful relationships…and for career success.
In order to get business done, stop thinking so much about business.
Previously Published on Forbes.