4 Ways to Build Close Relationships That Last

Every relationship has a give and a take. Try not to focus so much on the take. The best relationships are founded on the principle of giving something other than what you get.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #472


Today, we'll learn to build and maintain strong relationships by using their multidimensional nature. (And I'm not just talking about the fact that all of us are just three-dimensional tentacles on an 11th-dimensional monster with 7 billion brains). My friend Bernice still has a bit of a hero worship thing going on. We were in the mall a few weeks ago and who should we see but everybody’s favorite celebrity, Taylor Gaga Efron Pitt DeNiro Lawrence Sarandon! Bernice was beside herself. “I’ve been their fan for years! I want to be their best friend.” She ran right up to Taylor and proclaimed, “Taylor! I’m your biggest fan! Let’s have coffee!” You can imagine the result. It’s embarrassing just thinking about it.

We get into relationships because they’re all about give and take. There are things we want to get out of a relationship. But you can’t just say “I want cash,” or “I want your love,” or “appreciate me!” You need to build the relationship slowly, in a way that won’t invite rejection. Do that by giving first. And when you give, you’ll do best to give in a different way than you withdraw.

4 Ways to Build Close Relationships

  1. Make “deposits” to a relationship different from the withdrawals
  2. Come in sideways when directly doesn’t work
  3. Strengthen a partnership through complementary deposits
  4. Expect to get what you don’t expect

Let's dive deeper into each.

1. Make “deposits” to a relationship different from the withdrawals.

Let’s say you want to get really close and involved with Venture Capitalist Alex Drywall…as a business partner, of course. But everybody wants to do business with Alex. Any prospectus you send to the office gets returned by Gatekeeper Minion #9348. Approaching Alex along business dimensions just won’t work.

So how do you get the attention and stand out from the crowd? Learn more about Alex. A bit of digging reveals that Alex does community work, serving as the chairperson of your local Big Brothers / Big Sisters chapter. You just happen to be a member of the organization!

You can start building a relationship with Alex that way. Call Alex to discuss your experience as a Big Sibling, share your thoughts on the organization, and so on. You may find that calling Alex’s office about Big Brother / Big Sister business gets right through, bypassing Minion #9348 completely.

Once you get to know Alex socially and through community service, you can discuss business. You’ve invested in a strong social bond, which lets you now open up into a business discussion.

2. Come in sideways when directly doesn’t work.

Keith Ferrazzi, author of the excellent book on building your network Never Eat Alone, wanted to be an executive. But he was both young and rash. No matter how good he was, it would take him years to work his way up the partner track at Deloitte Consulting. Vying for a top job directly would have gotten him laughed out of the room. 

So Keith devoted his time, energy, and expertise into building relationships for Deloitte within his local business community. He also got his CEO to agree to dinners together every six weeks. When Deloitte decided they needed a new Chief Marketing Officer, Keith was put in charge of finding the candidate. During the search, he worked closely with the other senior management, shared his ideas for the challenges facing the new executive. He impressed them with his skills and ideas. When no perfect candidate could be found, he was chosen for the CMO position. Instead of working his way up, he demonstrated his desirability where his skills could be seen. 

3. Strengthen a partnership through complementary deposits.

Partnerships are a great place to think about mixing skills. Strengthen the partnership by contributing the skills you’re good at. Withdraw the benefits of your partner’s expertise. 

Steve Wozniak was a technical genius. Steve Jobs had an instinct for product design and finding markets for products. Together, they built Apple Computer, but it took both skill sets to make it happen.

What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What would it look like to have a partner who’s the other way around? When you find someone who can help build a business in ways you can’t, search for ways you can each contribute your strengths.

4. Expect to get what you don’t expect.

Even in other relationships, it’s worth understanding that different people give in different ways. In an unhealthy relationship, one person can end up giving everything, while the other one takes. This is the kind of complementary that we don’t need. If you find yourself in something one-sided—professional, romantic, or platonic—leave! Life is too short to hang out with relationship vampires.

But first, check all the dimensions involved before leaving. What do you give in the relationship? What do you take? You might find you complement each other in unexpected ways.

What do you give in the relationship? What do you take? You might find you complement each other in unexpected ways.

In the 1950s sitcom “I Love Lucy,” Ricky provided the income, and he withdraws housework and emotional support. Lucy does the reverse. She contributes housework and emotional support and withdraws economically. (Of course, in real life, Lucille Ball was a major force as a Hollywood businesswoman.) Each character may have driven the other insane, but they were a happy, loving couple nonetheless.

We’re taught relationships are give-and-take, but what you’re giving and what you’re taking matters. When building a relationship from scratch, build it along a different dimension than what you plan to get out of it. Use complementary giving and taking to strengthen partnerships, and when it comes to formal relationships like employers and employees, find ways to come in sideways like Keith Ferrazzi.

Since Bernice wanted to be friends with Taylor Gaga Efron Pitt DeNiro Lawrence Sarandon, she decided to reach out along a business dimension. Calling Taylor’s agent, she proposed that Taylor become the official celebrity spokesperson for the Green Growing Things line of Audrey IIs. 

Over lunch, Bernice and Taylor discovered that Bernice has a holding pen full of carniverous Audrey II plants. Taylor has several outfits made entirely of meat. They’ve only been worn once, because, well, you really can’t be seen in the same meat outfit twice. As the two negotiate a business deal to keep the Audrey IIs, it’s a match made in, er, heaven. Not only do both parties profit when Bernice purchases the meat, but in the process, they become fast friends. By coming in along the business angle, Bernice ended up with happy, well-fed plants, and a new friend.

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.