Relationships are currency

Relationships are a currency.

They’re worth something — friendships, acquaintances, colleagues, sources. They enrich our lives and, yes, they are integral to any success. Things get done by people who have relationships, to help guide, support, advise and strengthen goals.

This goes for everyone, but there are surely some industries that need them more than others: construction and development, politics and government and, certainly, reporting and community building. So I think a lot about the connections and people who make up community in all of its forms.

If relationships are one of the most valuable resources we have, why do we so often ignore their impact and why do three types of people so often abuse the role of connection?

I put a lot of time and effort in not just meeting people, but, I hope, getting to know people. I don’t often draw lines between meeting people professionally and personally because ultimately I want to know and interact with and be challenged by smart people. (Because of that, I also put a lot of time into keeping track of those relationships)

I respect connectors as vital community leaders. It’s such a community asset that I’m often perplexed but what little value is placed on it. That’s why it’s a role that I strive to provide, and one that I am only a few years into providing, so my network is relatively small.

Still the concepts and functions are there.

I want to connect people I respect with people I think they’d like in the same way I hope other people will do for me. I like connections. But I often find people miss the underlying meaning that comes with putting the time in building meaningful relationships.

For people I respect? Well, gosh, I *want* to introduce them to other people.

There aren’t a lot of acts in this world that have real value, but I believe introducing two people (or organizations) who become friends or do great work or have impact together is something communities too often undervalue.

So putting together people I respect is a treat. They offer each other value. That’s currency in action. Truly, it’s one of my favorite things to do. (Whether it was a favor asked of me or one I though to do myself).

And likewise, I am very discerning in whom I seek out for contacts. I want to earn relationships, so, in almost all cases, I only ask those whom I respect for an introduction. Outside of circumstantial situations, there are probably fewer than 100 people in the world who I would cold ask for an introduction to someone else.

But others seem less concerned. I regularly feel the ‘currency of relationships’ is unsettled too often by three groups:

  1. Strangers — If I can’t vouch for you, why should I burden a contact of mine with an introduction? I want to offer value, and while you may think you’re smart, if I don’t know that, you’re asking me to infringe on a relationship I have to offer something to someone with whom I don’t have one. This is overstepping.
  2. ‘Competitors’ — I use that term loosely so it can fit for readers in various industries, but I hope the point is clear. In my industry, if there are cardinal sins of reporting, one of them has to be one reporter asking another for a source. It’s simply unnatural. I’ve been asked for years for “introductions” by other reporters, usually ones who are, in theory, competing with me — though the stories end up filtering up, as they should, anyway. They seem to forget that reporters peddle in contacts. It is one of the primary assets that differentiates me from anyone else, so of course I am protective of them. This is laziness and gross-negligence. (Three exceptions that I see: (a) reporters who are simply reporting out their angle and are looking for perspective from me on a specific topic or story, and they offer value back with a link or a mention; (b) broader or different media outlets who I regularly connect with my community, because it provides value to my community, and (c) other reporters who I have really, really good relationships with and/or are editor/reporter or colleague relationships)
  3. the Self-interested — While people in the first two groups probably also fit in this category, I also think this includes other people who too often ask for introductions when they don’t deserve them. They want to get a deal done, they want to promote themselves, they want to check on something or do something or say something that will benefit them alone. It is entirely about them (whether they realize it or not) and not about the value they could actually provide the person to whom they want an introduction (and certainly not to me). I am a platform to get what they want and it ends there. This feels like an infringement on our relationship.

Put more crudely: relationships are currency. It’s like asking me for money. Would you feel comfortable asking me for that under these circumstances?

Or another way, building relationships and community is labor intensive. If you’re asking to use that labor, then you should have a good sense of what value you are giving in return.