In the long run, the only type of relationship that endures is the mutually beneficial one. One-sided relationships — whether they are vendor-customer, spouse-spouse, or friend-friend — either do not last or create prolonged dissatisfaction.

Nobody ever disagrees with this notion, yet very few people actually engage in this way of relating.

I find this peculiar.

I have a few theories as to why this is the case… and, more importantly, how to very easily make mutually beneficial relationships a major asset in your personal and professional life.

I think there are several reasons why people don’t engage in mutually beneficial relationships.

First, these types of relationships are not role modeled in various types of media (social media, movies, television, etc.).

Much of social media culture is about showing others the best parts of your life and observing the best parts of other people’s lives.

It’s not generally about our lives together.

If you look at traditional media, so much of it is implicitly geared toward a better-than/less-than perspective on the world.

“Look at those [insert a particular political or demographic group here]… they are so [insert negative adjective here].”

There’s more polarization than ever… And much less “Let’s agree to disagree and grab a beer together, talk about it, discuss, exchange ideas, and learn from one another.”

Academic culture focuses on grades, scores, and percentile ranks. It’s a competition. Only so many people can get into Harvard each year.

Come to think of it, corporate job-seeking culture has a similar tendency. Only so many people get a job offer from McKinsey each year.

There are very few places where the focus isn’t about winning vs. losing or being better than vs. less than someone else. There are very few places where the focus is on helping each other achieve our goals, meet our needs, and prosper.

In fact, I’m having difficulty finding even one example of this in mainstream culture.

However, mutually beneficial relationships are an incredible asset in life and in one’s career. They provide resources to draw upon in a time of need. They provide referrals, introductions, and access to opportunities. Everybody loves this.

So, what’s the key to having mutually beneficial relationships in all facets of your life?

Very simple.

Be as concerned with how others benefit from being in a relationship with you as you are with how you benefit from being in a relationship with them.

Re-read that last sentence. It’s the key to building and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships.

With clients, it’s simple. Don’t ever do a deal with a client where they don’t get a big win from doing business with you. (And make sure you get a big win too.)

With friends, it’s also simple. Ask them, “How can I make our friendship more beneficial and meaningful to you? How can I support you? How can we make our friendship more satisfying?” (And ask if they would be willing to hear what would make the friendship better for you.)

With significant others, it’s simple as well. Check in with them to see how satisfied they are with your relationship together. Ask if it could be better and what would need to happen for that to be true. (And ask if they would be willing to hear what you would like that would make the relationship better for you.)

Asking others how to make the relationship more beneficial for them doesn’t automatically mean you will do what they want.

It means you care about what they want and how they could benefit from you.

Sometimes, what they want conflicts with you getting what you want, and it takes some effort to negotiate and find a third, fourth, or fifth option that gets you both more of what you want.

Other times, what they want has a huge benefit for them but only causes a minor inconvenience for you. That’s an easy one to say “yes” to.

At times, what they want is of small benefit to them but incurs a major cost for you. That’s an easy one to say “no” to.

Sometimes, what they want, you can’t or don’t want to do… or don’t want to do right now. But at least you considered it, and that counts for something in the long run. In addition, you can keep in mind what they want in case your situation changes or you come across a person or resource where an introduction or referral would be welcomed.

Mutually beneficial relationships aren’t actually that hard. It just takes some thoughtfulness, consideration, and a little bit of effort. 

Let me know your thoughts on this by commenting below.

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