Relational Intelligence: Being Authentic and Open With People



Relational intelligence is the harnessing of basic people skills to lead others into relating to you on a personal level. It is being authentic and open with people. What enables me to build long-term relationships like the one I fostered with my friend Frank—and also short, passing relationships like the one I built with Mr. Rubik’s Cube—is my ability to harness my relational intelligence. When you are practicing relational intelligence, you are actively negotiating social spaces in an effort to create profitable bonds with others. To be prosperous in your new relationships, focus on the following:

  • establishing trust and ownership
  • delivering consistent results—leading with the willingness to give instead of simply receive
  • offering support
  • showing authenticity and even vulnerability
  • keeping in touch and constantly following up
  • informing customers of your successes through newsletters, published articles, press releases, and social media
  • developing ongoing collaborations and coalitions

The truth is that we are all connected to each other in some way or another. I believe the rule is something like six degrees of separation between each of us. So the work of fostering relationships with people is not in being connected to someone else in particular, it’s what you choose to do with that connection.

Here is a good example of situations where we can use relational intelligence in order to be more successful:

Legal Considerations

The Latin proverb Verba volant, scripta manent, or “Spoken words fly away, written words remain,” became my dictum when I started in sales. My knowledge of Latin helped me in two profound ways: it enabled me to learn more languages, and it gave me this quotable reminder that all of my work would amount to smoke if I didn’t get it down on paper to sign, seal, and deliver a deal. Language skills helped in breaking barriers and building connections with others. You may think I’m talking about this book, which is applicable, but I’m also referring to the legal world of contracts.

Contracts serve the purpose of outlining the relationship between two companies. There is no way either company can get to work without the contract. Think of it as the rulebook of a football game. A contract sets boundaries for a working relationship and establishes a fair way of overcoming mishaps whenever a disagreement occurs. It also includes provision rights, obligations, and services provided—a document of expectations for both parties.

The goal of every salesperson is to get to the contract stage of the discussion. Once you have a soft yes, you get the lawyers involved to iron out the particulars of the deal. As someone whose quota depends on the signing of the contract, it is my top priority to make sure that both parties, their company and mine, reach an amicable agreement and build consensus. You can spend all the time you want talking about a deal, but unless you close and put it to paper, you will not receive compensation for your time, craft, and patience.

With lawyers involved, what is a global salesperson’s role in the contract phase? When it comes to contracts, there are many places where your hard work can come to a full stop. It all comes down to communication. Throughout my experience, I learned that I had to be the one greasing the wheels to keep the machine of lawyers, executives, and other voices working together. I always set myself up as the go-between contact for the lawyers and the client. After all, I was the one who built relationships with each of the team members. Eventually, I made myself known to my clients’ lawyers and always made it a point to befriend the individual.

I am the first to agree that lawyers can be a tough crowd. I know this because for two years, I attended law school. However, that is what they’re paid to do—be aggressive for the sake of their client. My role as the executive is twofold: liaison and translator. As a good liaison, I enhance the way the two parties communicate and interact. When it comes to the actual contract, I serve as a translator, interpreting and rewording legal jargon in order to clarify and incorporate business terminology to smooth out the entire process. Every business deal needs a contract, but I’ve seen months of work get stalled because the contract can’t be signed and introduces many barriers.

Take, for instance, a contract I received from a client in Brazil. My lawyer sent me the contract, and I in turn sent it to the client. The customer spent a few days on it and sent it back to me. When I took a look at it, I cringed. The piece they sent back looked like a lit-up Christmas tree. As I looked at the amalgamation of items underlined in various colors and flagged words, I felt my heart—and my hope for a quick close—sinking slowly. If I sent that back to my lawyer as it was, I could expect to get it back in about six months, no kidding. That’s six months too long to wait to iron out the details of how our two parties would be working together. So I set myself to untangling the Christmas-tree lights.

The philosophy I have is to keep my clients’ lawyers happy just like I have to keep my lawyer happy. If by chance their lawyer doesn’t like me, I can promise you that I’m not moving forward and getting anywhere in the agreement quickly. I start making moves to get to know their lawyer as early as the first meeting with their executive team. When our groups get together, I casually suggest we invite the lawyer to come to lunch with us. “Is Frederick available?”

It has happened often enough that a “Frederick” will dine with our teams and I’ll learn something interesting about him. For example, if Frederick is a soccer fan, I’ll say, “Frederick, I actually have tickets to that game, you should come with me. I don’t know anyone here.” Who wouldn’t want to see Messi, the best soccer player in the world, playing live in Barcelona?

We’ll spend another afternoon in each other’s company, becoming friendly. Within three days, I can promise you that “Frederick” will have put together a contract and will have it sitting on my desk or airplane tray table. “Frederick” represents a contract that is a multimillion-dollar deal, and through simple human engagement, I’ve decimated any walls of defensiveness that may have kept our two companies from working together in a relatively short time. Dear reader, relationships are everything.

There are many different situations on which a contract can get snagged—things as small as the format of the contract or as large as when the initial payment is due. Everything has to be addressed in the contract stage, and I couldn’t do it without my three As and three Cs.

As an example, when a contract comes back to me looking like a Christmas tree, I phone their lawyer and say, “We need to take a look at sections 1E, 3C, and 4F.” Sometimes this leads to a conference call with both parties on the line—but you see what I’m doing. I’m taking the initiative and pioneering the changes in the contract so that when my lawyer has it for final review, he has a document that isn’t cluttered with jargon. It is a clear and concise agreement, one that I know he can sign off on. This makes a process concrete without any consideration for both short- and long-term obstacles that might derail a great deal.

Benjamin Von Seeger is an entrepreneur, frequent C-suite member and telecommunications veteran with twenty years of global business experience. His book The RiVal: Play the Game, Own the Hustle, Power in Competition, Longevity in Collaboration (out now) draws on vast personal experience and proven philosophy to inspire a new generation of businesspeople and students. Visit his website and follow Ben on Twitter @benvonseeger.
  • Posted by Benjamin Von Seeger/
  • Article, Business Relationships