There’s No Secret Sauce for Developing Good Business Relationships

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Business can usually be conducted by phone, Skype or in person. It really doesn’t matter the approach; what is important is how you comport yourself — irrespective of whether the individual(s) with whom you are dealing are superiors, peers or subordinates. I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed conversations that were best conducted behind closed doors. The old adage of praise in public, criticize in private is underused or completely ignored.

When did we fall down on practicing the basics of common courtesy: returning phone calls, knocking before entering an office, or saying “excuse me” when certain situations call for it?

How common is common courtesy? Not so much. Take a look at Silicon Valley — though lack of courtesy is the least of its problems. Partnerships, whether CPA firms or law firms, are incubators for sniping, infighting, tribal warfare and rumor mongering. Corporations, too, have their own tribulations, such as silo thinking and lack of effective communication. Is this how you want your workday to be? If a poll were taken about work satisfaction the statistics would be less than stellar.

Surviving the Daily Grind

It’s all about building and maintaining relationships. The ways to accomplish this are so simple that it’s stunning they are ignored.  Politeness is an underpinning of all interaction, second nature if you will. To some, however, by virtue of their position or title, believe “please” and “thank you” are beneath them.  Consider the person who goes the extra mile to assist you, or vice versa, even if it is someone from a department that has virtually no bearing on your work. Is saying “thank you” or “I appreciate your help” too much effort to maintain or establish a relationship?

This is not just manners, but essentially, it is part of your job and its attendant responsibilities.

Should there be a Quid Pro Quo? Goodwill gestures aren’t necessarily a tit for tat dynamic. To be sure, they can be investments for the future. Just like with networking, you should neither seek nor expect immediate reciprocation. It defeats the purity of your actions and calls into question your motivation.

It’s easier to deal with peers because of shared experiences, similar levels of knowledge and many times there is a close age range. The bigger challenge is dealing with the management and subordinates.

Bosses and Subordinates: Both Need Careful Navigation

Let’s address management first. Sometimes it is difficult to manage upward. Your boss employs you. He or she can make life difficult for you. It all depends on how well you “manage” the relationship.

Setting aside the outliers, who no matter what you do or say, will be oblivious nonetheless. For those leaders who pride themselves on understanding how to relate to their people, if you treat them with the respect they deserve, you will be viewed as a key member of the team. But like anything else, it is the approach that is critical.

Should you have a difference of opinion with your boss, strategize how best to present it (preferably in private). Explain at the beginning your thinking, how another option may be more appealing to the boss, and conclude by saying that you will support whatever final decision he or she makes.

If you understand your boss’s priorities, then be willing to assist in carrying out those priorities. You are laying the groundwork for establishing greater receptivity to your ideas in the future.

And what about subordinates? Protocol, reputation and image should be on display when dealing with those who report to you. Effectively interacting with your direct reports requires handling delicate situations through the exercise of respect and careful listening. And equally important, be the role model. Never require your direct reports to follow rules that you ignore.

As you would like your boss to listen to your ideas, apply this thinking to your staff members. Have meetings to share ideas and recommendations, and above all, show respect to what they have to say even if their thoughts don’t align with yours. You will build up trust and earn their confidence. Consider this as an investment in the future: you may be eliminating a potential exodus of staff.

Keep an “open door” policy and create an environment where open communication is welcomed and encouraged.

Here’s a thought: give credit to others whose efforts made you look good and be a staunch advocate and defender of those who were inappropriately or unjustly criticized or accused of something. You may be caught in the crossfire, but this is part of becoming a leader and building relationships.

Some of these suggestions may elicit a “duh” reaction from readers. For others, like the younger professionals, they may be revelatory. But if the Bell Curve theory holds, then they may serve as a required refresher for the majority.

Not such a bad thing.

While a lot has been written about the coping with office dynamics, I recommend taking a look at Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny, et al. to help you navigate your way through the uncertainties and the challenges within the workplace and outside of it.

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at