Thursday 31 October 2019

How to Build Resilient Relationships in a World of Toxic Negativity

Forming relationships should be based on character, personality and common
interests. Not on skin colour, country, age, gender, wealth or level of education. 

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Did your relationships languish during COVID-19? Me too! Maintaining friendships by Zoom or Facetime only went so far.

We learned that forming relationships is one thing. Maintaining and developing them is another.

It takes thoughtful action guided by genuine caring to form life-long friendships. One of the greatest challenges to maintaining strong relationships during the pandemic was the mental state you were in. 

Being confined to your house and not allowed to go out took a toll. Addictions soared and the dark cloud of depression settled on many. Some gave up.  

Meeting together in Zoomland didn't cut it. It was better than nothing but not by much. We heard the term Zoom fatigue as video conferences became boring and predictable. 

Being a Great Freind

When restrictions were lifted, in-person conversations were exhilarating! In fact, I found that I often talked too much as I engaged with other humans as the starting point of my post-COVID recovery. 

I began thinking of friendships in a new way. How could I maintain current relationships, revitalize old ones, and form new ones? 

My self-assessment started with creating a list of reasons why others would want to be friends with me. What value could I bring to a relationship? 

The important thing is not to assume. You have no idea what will cause another person to engage with you until you start a conversation.

A word of caution. Relationships are stillborn when we engage others only when we want something. Our motives are selfish.

We’ve all had the call from the person we haven’t heard from for 10 years. The conversation begins on a high note of reminiscing about old times and that we need to get together to catch up. 

Then comes the subtle - or not so subtle - transition to the great opportunity they are really calling about. They have an amazing offer you'd be a fool to pass up! Usually, it will benefit them more than you. 

Strong relationships are based on mutual trust and respect. 

Knowing what really matters is the starting point for lasting relationships. When we see others as friends rather than enemies or as possible collaborative partners rather than competitors, the seeds of promising relationships are planted. 

We see others as more than stepping stones to advance our own goals and make our own lives better. The seeds begin to grow when we incubate win-win relationships.

At the Corporate Level

How important are relationships in business? The big banks all have departments looking after ...
  • Community Relations
  • Media Relations
  • Investor Relations
  • Employee Relationships  
How important do they take relationships? Their advertising and websites state they take relationships very seriously. According to those sources, YOU are their number one priority. 

If that was only the case! I have a bank account with a national bank and another with a local credit union. I often feel the big bank has no idea who I am or that I've banked with them for 30 years. On the other side, the credit union staff makes a point of remembering my name, what I do in my business, and showing that they understand my needs. 

Still not convinced? Have you ever spent hours on hold waiting to talk to your cell phone representative? The government? We need to say no more! 

Companies that work hard to develop relationships become market leaders. I take note when a bank puts my goals and interests first rather than just wanting my money. 

We talk about brand affinity, brand loyalty and brand building. Directly or indirectly, all point to forming some level of relationship with customers. Relationship marketing is the official name of a sales philosophy that drives many businesses.

Robyn Braley analyzes Political Leaders Body Language 

with Dallas Flexhaug following Canadian Election Debate 

on Global TV

Democracy at Risk

Local and national media ask me to analyze body language during political leaders' debates on television. As I interpret the verbal and nonverbal messages the leaders send I get the sense some really didn’t like or respect each other.

Watching political leaders during the pandemic amplified the bad behaviour of many political leaders. They lied, threatened, incited violence and verbally destroyed the character of others. The tragedy was that millions felt they were great leaders and soon began to imitate their behaviour. 

How can you run a democracy without mutual trust, respect and positive relationships between party leaders, community leaders, business leaders and other elected officials across the country? How can you discuss the merits of a good idea when you begin with the assumption that your opponents don’t have any?

Becoming Rat Free

Does this mean the rats winning? Does this mean decency and goodwill are being sacrificed by rats intent on winning the rat race? One way to guarantee a life without friends is to allow the rats to shape your attitudes and define what your personal success will be. 

Does this mean the rats are winning the rat race?

Rats tend to step on the fingers of others on their way to the top. That doesn’t usually lead to positive relationship outcomes. 

Oh, they usually know hundreds of acquaintances! But most have few true friends built through transparency and authenticity. They have sacrificed positive relationships with friends, family, neighbours or business colleagues on their way to the top.

Healthy Relationships

It’s simple. Really!

Healthy living depends on positive engagement with others. 

We are social beings. Endless studies show that positive relationships help us to live longer/ We manage stress better, develop healthier habits and make better life choices. In the end, healthy relationships make healthy humans.

A Place for Relationships 

What does this mean for the workplace? If you are known as a Grumpy Gus who has suddenly started radically smiling and making positive comments about life in general, there may be awkward questions about your mental or emotional stability

If that’s the case, go slow. Start with half-smiles, but don’t smirk! Work your way up to radical smiles. 

Introduce acts of kindness to your workplace. As your team develops stronger relationships, they will work better together. They will engage with each other and develop loyalty to the company. 

When working collaboratively, people around you will contribute to making better decisions. When we lift each other up, everybody wins.

Relationship Funnels

Marketers use the image of a funnel to explain the journey potential customers take from their introduction to a product or company to when they buy. It is the formula used for building communities in social media. 

You get to KNOW a person 
As you get to know them, you begin to LIKE them
As you find more to like, you develop TRUST
As trust deepens, you feel they will keep their word which leads to ENGAGEMENT
Deeper engagement leads to MAKING THE SALE 
It’s another example of how relationship marketing works. As you begin to trust each other, conversations lead to some form of transaction. It may be a sale, a second meeting, a request for a proposal, or permission to keep in touch. 

The model also works for retail sales. With big-box grocery stores, you trust them to sell the same quality of cheese that you bought last time. Strong brands understand that high trust relationships matter.

Be the Real Deal

Relevance - both parties share common values and interests 
Authenticity - being the real deal
Transparency – letting the inner you shine through  
Consistency - doing the good things you do time after time

Relationship Influencers

1. Age – Millennials see things differently than boomers
2. Gender – Men think differently than women.
3. Geographic origin – Culture influences how you relate to others
4. Accent, dialect – You may speak the same language but have different interpretations or levels of understanding     
5. Religion – Understanding similarities and sensitivities
6. Personality type – Otters, beavers and lions
7. Level of authority – Who’s the boss of me?
8. Common interests – Bridge building

Age Barriers

If you’re the youngest member of the staff and work in the warehouse, what would you possibly have in common with the owner who is 70 and has a big office with a view on the top floor? 

You'd be surprised. It might be hockey, football, baseball, collecting stamps, antique cars or a mutual love of donuts. Whatever it is, a comment about last night's game or the car show you attended may provide the perfect conversation starter that can lead to others. 

My daughter works for a broadcasting company that has 3 radio stations in one complex. Each Thursday is donut day and one of the managers is assigned the job of bringing in a large flat of donuts. 

If the donuts are late, the staff becomes agitated asking, "Where are they? Why aren’t they here? When will they come?"  
Sharing donuts is a great way to start relationships - particularly in Canada. Donuts have the power to reach across age, management and creative boundaries. Canadians love their donuts. Check out my post, 'The Ultimate Canadian Donut Rush! 

Language Barriers

Common interests may also be relationship starters when you can’t fully understand each other due to an accent or dialect. Sports are a natural motivator. 

I've had conversations with parents or grandparents of kids from India, China, Africa, the USA, Russia, Mexico and other countries at hockey games. 

Before COVID, I sat beside a fellow grandfather at our grandson’s hockey game. The Grandpa lives in Newfoundland and visits his grandchildren in Alberta once a year.

At first, I could barely understand him due to his marked accent. As we enjoyed the game, I began to listen more carefully and speak slower. I noticed he did the same. Soon we had a great conversation going as we watched the kids.  

Now, I should mention, he has no problem being understood by friends of his grandchildren. He established a tradition that is played out every time he visits. 

He takes his 2 grandkids and 10 of their friends to McDonald's for hamburgers, fries and ice cream. McDonald's has long been known as a place that fosters understanding and goodwill despite language and cultural barriers.

Religious Differences

In a diverse workforce, there are religious differences. My city hosts a Christian Leadership Prayer Breakfast every fall. Before COVID, about 900 business, church, political and community leaders come together once a year to honour elected officials and first responders.

Our Mayor, His Worship Naheed Nenshi, is an Ismaili Muslim. His first year in office the prayer event was scheduled 2 days after he was elected. 

Organizers were in a panic. They were concerned that he might not attend, or if he did, extremists might show up with anti-Muslim signs shouting angry slogans.

I sat beside a PR colleague who had played a major role in Mayor Nenshi being elected. He shared that the Mayor was also nervous because he had no idea what to expect.  

In going out of their way to make him feel welcome, the organizers had overlooked one little menu detail. Bacon! Muslims - and Jews - don't eat bacon. 

Mayor Nenshi soon put everyone at ease as he took the podium to address the crowd. At the beginning of his talk, he said with a twinkle in his eye that showed up clearly on the huge video enhancement screens, 

“You've made me feel very welcome. However, I find it interesting that you would serve a Muslim Mayor bacon!” That broke the ice. His comment was greeted with resounding applause and gales of laughter. 

He went on to highlight common interests shared by Muslim and Christian faiths including serving the poor, feeding the hungry, community service and making our city a better place to live and work. It all made sense. 

Mayor Nenshi served 3 terms. Every year he attended the event and reminded us, in good humour, about the bacon. 

Personality Differences

You may feel there are those in your home or office who don’t have one! A personality, that is. 

Understanding personality differences will help build deeper relationships. The best explanation I’ve ever had was from a speaker who laid fox, bear, lion, otter, owl, and beaver hand puppets on a table. 

He proceeded to use each one to explain personality types to 2,500 people.It was brilliant! People of all ages love puppets - almost as much as Canadians of all ages love donuts!  

For a deeper explanation, click here. Truity's Personality and Careers Blog explains it much better than I can. 

Leveraging Our Differences

If you let it, celebrating diversity can bring great joy. I base that on the great happiness excellent Chinese, Indian, African, Mexican, Nepalese, Brazilian, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Italian, Ukrainian and other food types restaurants in my city bring me. The seeds of a new relationship may begin through sharing a meal, 
Reaching across cultural and ethnic differences is enriching. It starts by understanding that people of Chinese descent who emigrated from Beijing may have a different perspective than those from Vietnam, Hong Kong or Vancouver, BC.  

Hispanic people in Los Angeles or Vancouver think and speak differently than those in Toronto or New York. Each filters communication through their own unique culture and experience. 

If your company is set to launch a new location in another country, I’ll bet you know a colleague, employee, college buddy, neighbour or the parent of a kid who plays sports with your kids who has come from the region where you want to do business.

You will learn more about local culture and opportunities in your target region during a 30-minute chat at a Tim Horton's or Starbucks than you will from hours of online research or wading through government trade programs.  

Deepening Relationships

Building relationships takes work. Fighting back against negativity by showing kindness and respect will lead to a more human society. 

When you start with kindness, others will join in and pass it on. 

What if your kindness fails to bring significant change? Keep trying. Change the way you respond or interact with others. The bottom line is to never let the rats suck you into their race!

Relationship Builders

1. I love hearing your ideas
2. You’re a great friend
3. What can I do differently
4. I think you know my friend
5. What can I do to help
6. I fully trust your judgment
7. I couldn’t have done this without you
8. Thank you so much
9. I’m sorry. May we start again
10. You inspire me
11. Like you, I care about this 
12. I understand how you feel
13. I’m proud of you. I wanted to tell you in case no one else has
14. Perfect. That’s exactly what I thought
15. I like that idea
16. Don't panic. You've got this
17. You’re a Badass! In a good way

Relationship Killers

1. We've never done it that way before
2. It’s not in the budget
3. We’re just not ready
4. I’m too busy
5. What if we try and fail
6. What will the head office say
7. What will the others say
8. We don’t have the expertise
9. Wait until things get better
10. Interesting, but let’s think about it
11. Let’s form a committee
12. When your manager, you can do things your way
13. You don't get it
14. Are you bringing that up again
15. Don't you remember what happened last time
16. Get over it
17. That's another one of your pipedreams

What do you Think?


Please give me your feedback below. I'd love to know what you think! 

Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is also a media commentator and Rotarian. Robyn is the President of UniMark Creative which does website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. He speaks at business conferences and also blogs about branding and person-to-person communication. 

Follow on Twitter: @RobynTBraley 


  1. You provide a terrific list for meaningfully connecting in personal and business relationships. I appreciate your wisdom and encouragement.

  2. Thanks for reading my post and taking time to comment. Really appreciate it.

  3. Thanks for taking time to read my post. Thanks for the comments. Much appreciated.