HR Management & Compliance

Work Relationships That Change the World: What’s Love-Love Got to Do with It?

Group Publisher of Employment Law at M. Lee Smith Tony Kessler reviews Tommy Spaulding’s book It’s Not Just Who You Know, finding the author offers an insightful look into the five different levels of relationships.

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, blogs, and Skype, most of us have cyber-lists filled to the brim with friends these days. If we’re lucky, more than just a few of them fall into the category of “deep, lasting, ‘call me at 3:00 a.m. no matter what the reason’ relationships,” as author Tommy Spaulding, former CEO of Up With People, describes them in his new (first) book, It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts into Lasting, Genuine Relationships.

The truth of the matter, though, is that most of them don’t rise to that level. I doubt I’m the only person whose Facebook friends include high school acquaintances who never actually spoke to me very much back in the day. I’m glad their memories are positive enough to warrant some interaction, but I sometimes wonder what’s the purpose.

Spaulding — who appears to have turned hundreds of such colleagues and contacts into lasting, genuine friendships — would say we shouldn’t dismiss even “random relationships.” He says investing your energy into short-lived and seemingly random encounters “can produce unforeseeable yet significant benefits.”

In one celebrated example, Spaulding recounts the time he spent engaged in conversation with a bartender waiting on him and a roomful of other young candidates interviewing for a $25,000 Rotary Club scholarship. Turns out, the interviewers couldn’t decide who deserved the prize, so they asked the bartender, who picked the slam-dunk winner: “Only one person came up to the bar and introduced himself. That Tommy Spaulding has to be one of the nicest kids I have ever met.”

Why Should Employers Care?

Spaulding admits that as a youngster, he never did very well at reading, ‘riting, or ‘rithmetic, but he overcame dyslexia to excel at a fourth “r” — relationships. Repeatedly throughout the book, he talks about how he has taken Dale Carnegie’s classic philosophy of networking to the next level. He coins the phrase “netgiving” to describe how he developed deeper relationships by giving to others and putting them first.

In the corporate world, profit is often king. If it turns into a full-blown dictator, though, and relationships become secondary, the company suffers, according to Spaulding. He warns that businesses are likely destined for extinction if they don’t put “relational competence” on at least the same level with profit. By paying more than just lip service to creating relationships that matter (and, the author hopes, change the world), you “retain clients, supercharge your career, create loyal colleagues and customers, grow business — all the bottom-line measures of a successful business.”

Five Floors of Relationships

So, where do you start? One of the more helpful parts of Spaulding’s book describes his “Five Floors of Relationships.” He challenges readers to scroll through their Blackberry contacts (you could use your Facebook friends) and divide them into five levels:

  • The First Floor is where relationships start; many are transactional, and after we get what we want, we simply move on. Example: The losing Rotary scholarship candidates who failed to interact much with the bartender.
  • On the Second Floor, we begin sharing more information, but these relationships seldom move beyond discussing news, weather, or sports. Example: Many casual and business acquaintances.
  • In Third Floor relationships, we begin sharing opinions and feelings. On the downside, as we begin to understand more about what makes other people click, this is also often where relationships stall. Example: Many longer-term work relationships.
  • On the Fourth Floor, things get deeper and more significant. These friends share common interests, goals, beliefs, and causes, and can work through conflicts. Example: Someone you’ve confided in and dropped your guard about personal finances or other fears.
  • Fifth Floor is “the Penthouse of relationships,” according to Spaulding, where “vulnerability, authenticity, trust, and loyalty are off the charts.” These are established by people hell-bent on giving more than they get. Example: Spouses (if you’re lucky) and your other closest, most intimate social — and business — relationships. These are the people you love and who love you back, according to Spaudling. Of course, he isn’t necessarily talking about romantic love. So, no, you don’t have to “love-love” these people to reach this level!

The goal isn’t necessarily to convert all 483 of your Facebook friends to Penthouse relationships. Spaulding says that while we are capable of more such connections than you would think, our goal should be to build relationships at all five levels.

Practical Things You Can Do

Spaulding’s book is full of good advice on moving a relationship forward. Without giving away too many of his secrets, here are a select few words of wisdom that I found helpful:

  • Be a facilitator and help the people you know help other people you know.
  • If the would-be friend is untrustworthy, cynical, jealous, or manipulative, walk away.
  • Mentor another person with the goal of intentionally making that person “greater than yourself.”
  • When we pour ourselves into helping others, our attitude about who we are begins to improve.
  • If the only reason we’re giving is because of what we can get, then we’ll never get the most out of our lives.

You catch the drift. While these may sound like pie-in-the-sky when you bullet-point them in a book review, Spaulding does a credible job of bringing them down to earth and making them seem attainable by showing the learning curve — the successes and failures — in his own life. Who among us couldn’t use a few more really good friends?

Early Successes and a Failure

Naturally, even before finishing the book, I tried putting myself into Spaulding’s mindset and approaching a few friends — mostly on the Second, Third, and Fourth Levels — to see how all of this works in real life. And I’m happy to report that the early results are promising. A number of luncheon get-togethers are in the offing. It should be common sense, but the book reminds us that we can’t nurture relationships if we don’t interact.

On the down side, Spaulding assures us that we will have failures. Even when you give your all, your “Return on Relationship (ROR)” can be a big fat zero.

Last week I reached out to a new @HRHero follower on Twitter and went back and forth with him about the fresh and fun messages he was posting on his account. To help him make his break, I invited him to share his workplace insights in one of our HR publications. Even though we benefit when good content comes our way, I honestly was hoping to help him more than us. He had an interesting point of view that deserved to be showcased.

Turns out, my new Twitter friend wasn’t who he said he was. Before we sealed the deal, he admitted that his avatar and persona are fictional. He understood when I told him that we couldn’t use his content knowing that his byline would be fake. In Spaulding’s world, our relationship had just gotten stuck on the stairwell somewhere between the First and Second Floors. But I wished my new Twitter acquaintance well and will continue to watch and see whether, as I predict, he will turn his schtick into something that succeeds in other arenas.

So, it wasn’t a total loss. I felt better for trying. And at the end of the day, in Spaulding’s viewpoint, that’s at least half the battle.