On Investing in Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of relationships and the high cost of maintaining those relationships.

All of our wonderful new social tools have distorted the meaning of words like relationship, friend, and network. In some way our tools have devalued the ideas behind these words. Once you cross Dunbar’s number, the people you are connected to on the social web are something less than relationships, something less than friends, or something less than your real network. These “relationships” may represent a community, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have a relationship to each of the individuals in that community.

The truth is that your real relationships are limited because they come with a very high price.

The Investment of Time

If you are going to have meaningful, valuable, and value-creating relationships, you have to make an investment of time. Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder; it makes the heart go wander. This is one of the main constraints on the number of real relationships you can manage.

Think about the most important people in your personal life (it’s probably only five or so). What investment of time do you need to make in those relationships for them to be the meaningful relationships you really want?

Think about your most important business relationships (this might be ten to fifteen people, maybe more for some people). Are you investing the time in those relationships to make them meaningful, valuable, and value creating?

Because your time is finite, you have to make decisions about where you invest that time—and more importantly, who with.

The Investment of Frequency

The investment of time is critical to relationships. But the frequency of your communication matters too. The longer between visits, the less valuable the relationship becomes. The investment of frequency is part of what creates the relationship.

Frequency is difficult, too. There isn’t enough time to do everything we would want to do were time unlimited. This means we often have longer gaps between the face-to-face meetings, the lunches or dinners, or phone calls.

Care and feeding of relationships requires frequent communication. The value of the relationship is improved by frequent communication and reduced by long absences.

How frequently do you invest your time with the people that matter most in your life? How frequently do you have meaningful communication with the people who make up your most important business relationships?

The Investment of Caring

There isn’t any substitute for caring. This is the root of trust, and the root of all great relationships. You can’t care about everyone and everything. You have to make choices.

The investment of time is a demonstration of caring. So is the frequency in which you initiate communication. But caring is more about creating value for the other person. It’s about finding a way to help them. Sometimes being valuable can be something as simple (and difficult) as just listening.

In our business relationships, caring is the continuous, proactive search to find new ways to create value for your business relationships. Caring is finding some way to help create better business results.

The sum total of your happiness is measured by the value of your relationships. You have a limited amount of time and energy to devote to those relationships. Make the investment of time, frequency, and caring to make your most important relationships what they should be.


How many real friends do you have?

How many real, meaningful, valuable business relationships do you have?

How much time do you have to invest in relationships? How do you make the choices of where to invest that time?

How frequently do you have meaningful interactions with your most important business relationships?

What limits your ability to care? How do you make that investment?

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