Finding the Tools that Work for You: Association.


I had a conversation this Monday with a contact I’d made at a conference last March. She was giving a talk about her enterprise and her journey and it was truly inspiring. She was a dynamic, smart and driven individual who made an impression from the moment her talk began. Afterward, I felt compelled to approach her at the end of the session and let her know exactly what effect the talk had on me and how grateful I was that she’d decided to share her story.

It was a moment that I knew would change me but at the time I had no idea how.

I’m not at all averse to speaking to people I barely know, I do it all the time and my wife gives me no shortage of ribbing over it. In fact, nearly every friend, sibling, child, partner or acquaintance of mine has commented on it. They recognize that there is something in me that needs to connect with others. I am slowly learning how to use that to connect with opportunities as well.

For the first half of my working life, I have without fail, found work through the act of communicating with others. Yes, in order to apply for, interview for, and be hired for any type of employment requires some form of communication, but to seek out opportunity requires the effort of putting oneself out there first. Since landing my first job I had always sought out opportunities for work, not going into random places and asking if they were hiring but by either getting involved in conversations with current employees or presenting myself, face to face in front of employers who could see and hear me.

Back when I started working there was no electronic gatekeeping, a person had to look at each and every application. I soon realized that by attending job fairs, I was putting myself at the front of the line. I later realized it was because of two things. The first being that it was really hard to reject someone you have a face for and secondly and more importantly for the purpose of this post because I am not short on personality.

There is a huge difference between getting hired and seeking employment, just the same as there is a difference in simply asking someone out and actually courting them. One is a shortcut to a date, the other is the cultivation of a potential relationship. Employment, dating, creating friend circles or business contacts are similar in the respect that in order to create lasting versions of any of them, the cultivation of relationships is an indispensible skill.

One of the best and most effective tools for bringing life to our ventures is the connectivity we have with others. I know that sounds utilitarian in a way that can almost be seen as manipulative but remove for a second your preconceptions about what relationships are and indulge me.

I don’t believe that all relationships are transactional in the business sense. Reducing relationships to a balance sheet of credits and debits does no one any good. However, as we are social creatures, and as social creatures we require give and take, our relationships have become a tool of survival. They’ve helped us created teams, tribes, and families, the social order that allowed us to become the dominant species on this planet even though we are relatively weak, slow and clumsy is a vital part of our humanity and everything we do as humans.

It’s been said that it isn’t what you know, but who. Although I do not subscribe to this as a rule for everything, it does bring up a very prescient point about everything. As you grow your circle, you create opportunities. As you seek connection, you create associates who take the impressions you make on them and apply them to the things they come across in their daily lives. You create lasting impressions that are as deep as some of their most cherished memories.

“I thought of you when I saw ___,” Is one of the loveliest things to hear from a friend or an acquaintance. It gratifies us to be remembered in conjunction with something we love just as it annoys us to be associated with an incident, a moment or a trait we find distasteful. Being remembered, and then being associated with something else or the opposite, being recalled by something outside us, tells up we have been given a permanent place in someone’s brain.

This process of association is part of what binds us together. It is part of what good salespeople, consultants, and business owners do well, and a good part of the reason they succeed.

I associated the amazing presentation she crafted with this woman who is now one step closer to being an associate and hopefully a mentor to me. More importantly, she created a presentation that had so many elements that I, and others could relate to and as a result created the association in ME of her with what she brought on stage with her. All of that sealed the inevitability of my email.

Associating yourself with knowledge or action, with a hobby or smell or surroundings that resonate with the person or organization is one of the best ways to be remembered.

The opposite of the good salespeople, consultants and business owners are the ones who try too hard. They overcompensate like used car salesmen or hard sell and bully their way into your memory creating strong associations with negative emotions. This is not how genuine people create genuine relationships or partnerships.

Long term relationships are built on commonalities. Some particularly deft communicators can transcend this rule by finding commonalities within differences and bridging points of view by listening and asking questions.

Extraordinary people can go even further, finding common ground with even the most contentious of enemies.

Whether you are in the business of business or in the thick of your life as a whole, creating strong relationships has benefits that extend throughout your life. Develop that skill, work that muscle as if your life depends on it because it does.

If you are remembered in the right context by the right person, whatever you do will be boosted. Be dynamic, engaging and honest, listen, speak your truth, listen to others truths and understand that they may not be the same, in fact, they may be like night and day, but if you can find one thing, one commonality, start from there and focus on that.

If nothing else then you will be remembered and associated as one of the few people who are willing to meet others where they are instead of making them come to you.