Building successful (business) relationships

There has never been a better time to be a professional woman. Most organizations strive to treat men and women employees equally and fairly. Yet, in the technology industry there is still a slight prejudice towards women, making it difficult to foster strong relationships with partners.

During my career as a channel manager and director I've encountered partners who were reluctant to create a professional relationship with a woman simply because they assume women are not as adept with technology as men. While this assumption is unfair, it is a reality all women in technology must deal with an overcome. Here are some tips for creating strong professional relationships with your organization's partners – no matter what your gender.

Earn respect
No matter what your gender is, if your partner doesn't respect you, your relationship is doomed to fail. They won't return your calls promptly, they'll marginalize your advice and basically the partnership won't work. To earn your partners' respect begin by behaving in a professional manner upon your first meeting. Demonstrate your knowledge of the market they operate in and your company's technology. This will show your partner that you know your stuff and that you have advice worth listening too. Be sure to dress professionally to project your professionalism by your appearance. And of course speak confidently, even if you are feeling self conscience – remember the old adage, 'fake it 'til you make it”. Even when you feel you aren't being respected behave as if you should be.

Deliver on promises
When you are discussing margins, marketing ideas or any other topic be sure to know what you can actually deliver for your partner. It will take just one failed promise to make your partner distrust your advice or worse, you in general. If you promise your partner additional margins if they sell a certain volume or your product, be sure they receive it when they deliver on their end of the bargain. Failure to do so will mean they will distrust your promises in the future and stop working hard for you. Let's put it this way, if a friend told you they would give you $10 for picking their child up from school and then never paid you, would you be as willing to pick up their child again? In the end it isn't about the $10, it is about being respected. If your partner feels you don't respect them, they won't respect you.

Listen more than you talk
What do you partners need to succeed? What do they hope to get out of this partnership? What are the challenges they are facing? If you don't know then you aren't asking enough question and you aren't listening enough. Creating a successful relationship requires you to understand your partners but you can't do that if you aren't listening to their needs. So ask questions, find out how you can help and once again deliver.

Keep it professional…
Your partner doesn't need to know about your wild weekend in Vegas or your fight with your mother. They come to you for technical, business or sales advise and believe you are incapable of helping them if they see you as a party girl, immature or just plain crazy. The more they know about your personal life the harder it is to get them to respect you as a professional.

But be sure you get to know your partners
That being said, you have to have some level of familiarity with your partners. Relationships, even business relationships are about people. No partner wants to feel like they are working with a robot and no one can be all business all the time. So ask them about their family, talk to them about your weekend at the zoo with your niece and chit-chat about vacation plans or the weather. Short friendly conversations will foster a friendly relationship and a sense of trust. And if your partner likes you your relationship will be stronger.

Know when to bring in the reinforcements
No matter how professional, how confident and how knowledgeable you are, some men will still have a hard time taking a woman in technology seriously or showing her respect. This problem only gets worse if you are young or appear young for your age. So don't be too proud to bring in a trusted colleague to help the conversation progress. At first it may seem like you are deferring to older male co-workers but if you trust your colleague then over time the respect your partner automatically grants him will slowly transfer to you and the relationship will become your own. It may not seem fair, but by slowly gaining respect this way, you will potentially change the attitude of your partner towards young, professional women forever.

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About the Author: Shannon Lewis

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