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“Motives are the #1 cause of failure – or success – in relationships.” – Misti Burmeister

I recently met with two exceptionally successful businesswomen, hoping to get to know them and, perhaps, form mutually-beneficial relationships. But both conversations left me feeling irritated and wondering how to get close to these seemingly inaccessible women.

When I was introduced to Laura, author of Big Butts, Fat Thighs, and Other Secrets to Success, I was excited about meeting a fellow author with an impressive track record and connections.

At the end of our conversation, I said, “It seems like there’s a lot we can do to help each other. Wanna be friends?”

Her response confused and frustrated me. “That’s not how it works,” she said. “I have very few ‘friends.’ It takes time to get to know me.”

I asked why we should wait to start helping each other, and she explained, “You’re young. I’ve been in the business world since before you were even alive.” She then told me how hard she had to work to land the biggest contract of her career.

As I walked away from the conversation, I remembered the book Tripping the Prom Queen and thought, “This is another older woman who wants me to ‘pay my dues’ like she did. And to ensure I don’t become successful more quickly than her, she’s unwilling to collaborate.”

Then, I met with Jamie, who has been hugely successful in both the financial-services industry and non-profit world.

Our conversation started off great. We talked about our lives, families and careers. I listened intently while she spoke of the non-profit organizations near and dear to her heart, thinking she would probably help me with one I’m considering starting.

Again, I suggested becoming friends and looking for ways to support each other. And again, I got a less-than-encouraging response.

“Review my website,” she said. “Think about it a bit, and we’ll see what happens.”

I was baffled. So, I did what I usually do when I don’t understand where more “seasoned” professional women are coming from; I called my friend and mentor, Cynthia de Lorenzi, founder and CEO of Success in the City.

“Your approach is getting in your way,” Cynthia told me. “Instead of asking them to ‘share time and resources,’ let them know how much they intrigue you and how interested you are in their stories. Then, ask to learn more about them.”

That made perfect sense. When I said, “I’d like to be your friend,” I was making it about me, indicating that I wanted something from them. Had I said, “Your stories are so fascinating and valuable. I would like to learn more about you,” it would have been about them.

As Cynthia put it, “People love to talk about themselves. The more interested you are in them, the more they’ll care about you.”

When we focus on learning about others, we build relationships in a natural, authentic way. And when they begin to trust and care about us, the rest takes care of itself.

According to the International Listening Association, more than 35 studies indicate that listening is a top skill needed for success in business. And it’s no wonder. Business is about connecting with other people, so unless you’re willing to listen, you won’t have anyone who cares enough to help you succeed.

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes.

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