The Art Of The Sale

What Builds Strong Professional Relationships?

The attitudes and skills that really matter when looking to grow your business

Excerpted from Andrew Sobel’s Building Relationships That Matter Masterclass

Through 20 years of research and extensive experience working with over 50,000 professionals, Andrew Sobel has identified a set of powerful attitudes and skills for building the relationships that truly matter to your career. In his masterclass Building Relationships That Matter, he teaches people how to remove the barriers to these attitudes and skills and gives very specific tips for implementing them in their day-to-day relationships. They are as follows:

Two Attitudes…

If trust is the universal lubricant for relationships, generosity is the fuel that gets them started and keeps them growing. Sobel describes it as the willingness to give freely of your time, expertise, experience, and social capital. In other words, it’s not just about giving money (which is what most of us think of); it’s often about being willing to forgive someone who has hurt you or being happy for other people’s good fortunes.

“Most of us aren’t as generous in practice as we’d like to be,” says Sobel. “We have a ‘me’ focus. Sometimes this is due to a lack of role models. Other times it’s a fear of being taken advantage of. We need to strengthen our generosity muscle by taking small, daily steps.”

For example: Think about someone in your professional network who has experienced a success or positive development in their life. Speak to them in person, call them up, or write a short note (ideally, not an email or text). Express your admiration and how excited you are for them.

This attitude helps you learn about people, giving you a better basis to build rapport with them. It drives you to understand what’s important to others. The more you learn from those around you, the more proprietary knowledge you’ll accumulate (i.e., stuff you can’t Google!). Curiosity tends to atrophy as we age—but it doesn’t have to. We can intentionally initiate and cultivate it.

For example, when you talk to people you’re trying to form trusted professional relationships with, ask them about their goals, aspirations, and dreams. What have been the most important experiences in their lives and turning points in their careers? If you feel uncomfortable doing this, “practice” with a family member or friend.

…And Seven Skills

Rapport is a harmonious, sympathetic connection between you and the other person. It requires effective communication and an understanding of each other’s feelings and ideas. You can’t manipulate others into feeling rapport by, say, simply mirroring body language. People see through such tricks. To create rapport, you must come across as trustworthy, competent, and likeable—and all three qualities require preparation and being present and human.

“There are things you can do to project all three qualities,” says Sobel. “Find commonalities and similarities—this increases your likeability. So does walking in and thinking, I like this person—studies show it makes them like you. Ask questions and show an active interest in the other person, which increases trust. And of course, nothing demonstrates competence like being prepared and having a well-developed point of view on the topic you’re discussing.”

Power Questions
Sobel says the CEO of a large, global corporation once said to him: “I can always tell how experienced someone is by the quality of their questions and how well they listen. Good questions are far more powerful than quick, easy answers.” Power questions dramatically improve the quality of your conversations and help build stronger relationships. Of course not every question is a power question, says Sobel.

For starters, a power question is open-ended: Not, “Is it a priority to bring new skills into your department?” but rather, “In your department, how will your mix of employee skills need to change in the future?” It typically surprises the other person—so don’t fall back on clichés like “What keeps you up at night?” Instead ask, “What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?” A power question gets you focused on the right issues, helps you understand the other person’s agenda, and brings the strategic context and higher-level goals into the conversation.

Caring Through Empathy
Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, and also imagine what they are thinking and feeling. It’s a fundamental skill that enables us to walk in the other person’s shoes. Sobel says the four main foundations of empathy are an interest in others, self-awareness, humility, and listening skills.

“Take listening skills,” says Sobel. “We may not think of listening as an expression of empathy, but it absolutely is. And most of us have bad listening habits: rushing people through conversations, finishing their sentences, ‘faking’ paying attention. We check emails while on the phone with them. All these tell people, ‘I don’t care about you or what you’re saying.'”

The more you learn from those around you, the more proprietary knowledge you'll accumulate -- stuff you can't Google. Curiosity tends to atrophy as we age -- but it doesn't have to. We can intentionally initiate and cultivate it...

Developing Trust
Trust reduces the inevitable frictions inherent in working with others, the way oil keeps a car engine running smoothly. It enables the creation of deep, resilient connections at work and at home. When people trust each other, everything is easier: You can work together faster and more efficiently, because you don’t need to check up on each other all the time. You can express yourself to others without fear. Collaborating becomes a pleasant experience. In a high-trust workplace, you need fewer rules and controls.

To build trust, demonstrate that you are always acting with the other person’s best interests in mind. You need to meet commitments, keep confidences, and answer questions without hedging. Make these qualities tangible by sometimes doing something for the other person that is clearly not in your interest, and telling people quickly and openly about mistakes or bad news. Prepare carefully for meetings to showcase competence. On the other hand, trust-busting behaviors include criticizing others who aren’t in the room, exaggerating, and always ensuring that your needs are met first.

Agenda Helping
A person’s agenda is their top three to five priorities, needs, or goals. It’s what is really important to them over the next six to twelve months. We all have both a professional and a personal agenda. When you understand a person’s agenda, you can add value by helping them meet their goals—by sharing ideas or introducing them to others who can help. You may even anticipate or help shape their future agenda.

“Anticipating what may impact someone in the future is extraordinarily valuable,” says Sobel. “It’s the difference between saying, ‘Here’s an idea to help you climb your career ladder faster and better,’ and, ‘I think your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.’ You’re looking ahead and giving them the big picture. But be careful: You must be certain you understand what they’re focused on today. Don’t be one of those boors who tells people what to do without first getting to know them!”

Simply put, influence is the power to change or affect someone. If you have it, you’ll be able to convince others of your ideas and proposals and gain support for your goals. The foundation of influencing is having a strength of character and depth of knowledge that commands others to listen to you and follow your advice. This is your “pull” strategy. The second part of the influence process involves “pushing” via the use of persuasion strategies.

There are seven main persuasion strategies: self-interest, rational appeal, emotional appeal, consistency, reciprocity, social proof, and scarcity. All are valid in certain scenarios. “I typically use the first three in combination, as they work well in most situations,” notes Sobel. “Then I may draw from the other four to supplement these three. I tend to avoid scarcity—I find that it’s close to scaremongering. Appealing to self-interest and rational analysis is more powerful.”

Relationship Healing
Your ability to help resolve conflicts and heal broken relationships is paramount to your own well-being and those around you. Unresolved conflicts will fester, fueling anger and resentment. That’s why Sobel says it’s crucial to be able to hold healing conversations. But first you must be able to forgive the other person.

“Forgiveness is often misunderstood,” says Sobel. “It doesn’t mean that what the other person did is now okay or that you absolve them. Rather, true forgiveness is when you drop your demand to make them pay for what they did—you stop seeking revenge and compensation. This means you absorb the pain in the short-term, but then enjoy long-term peace.

“The alternative is to try to punish the person—perhaps badmouthing them to everyone or somehow sabotaging them,” he adds. “But if you don’t let go of your anger and resentment, you’ll become, as my mother used to say, an ‘injustice collector’ who is perpetually angry at everyone and stuck in a spiral of unending retaliation.”


Andrew Sobel, creator of masterclass Building Relationships That Matter, is the leading authority on the strategies and skills required to build the relationships that truly matter to your career. He is the most widely published author in the world on this topic, having written eight acclaimed, best-selling books on developing enduring professional relationships. His books have sold over 250,000 copies and have been translated into 21 languages. His newest book—It Starts With Clients: Your 100-Day Plan to Build Lifelong Relationships and Revenue—will be available in April 2020. Visit