Years ago, I was in a meeting where this one guy was pitching his business to me, and he handed me his business card (as people usually do). What was super interesting was the way that card looked:
there was a picture of him and his family, with ‘dad’ written in a big-sized font as his title and ‘CEO’ underneath it in small writing.
That was the first time I saw anything like that, which got me thinking.
When trying to do business, one of the first things each of us does is foresee how the other side might screw us over. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s the nature of the business sometimes. We do our due diligence so that we can feel comfortable working with new, unfamiliar people.
The dad CEO made me realize how something as simple as a business card, something we take for granted, can reflect your self-image and values, thus making a lasting impression.
In that sense, being approachable is a strategy you can and should leverage.
It goes far beyond being kind. At its core, approachability is about having and showing behavior that is human and vulnerable. As such, it can form, consolidate, or destroy relationships.
In contemporary business, being approachable as a strategy has three really important values:
1. You’re marketing yourself
Every entrepreneur knows just how important a first impression is, but what you may not know is how little time you have to actually make one. Research differs on this, from a tenth of a second needed to form an impression of a stranger from their face to 27 seconds being the window of opportunity.
In any case, you don’t have a second to waste, nor is there a guarantee of a second chance to clear up any misconceptions.
The tone of a relationship is often set by the first impression you make. While it accounts for many factors, coming across as approachable is a sure-fire way to market yourself as a caring and agreeable person who is favorable to work with.
It needs to last longer than that, though. In the entrepreneurial world, personal branding matters quite a bit. Once you establish a certain reputation, it follows you around. So, you’re not only marketing yourself with every new meeting but also remarketing.
2. You make others comfortable
Most approachable people have a common skill: they make other people feel comfortable. They immediately recognize uneasy situations and understand how to help resolve them. They never big-time you either.
The more I reflect on my own experiences, the more I come to realize that this is a super handy ability to have as it makes people you talk to feel at ease. Essentially, you’re leveraging the ‘being human’ factor, your high emotional intelligence, which can make a huge difference, even in the worst of situations.
Body language is part of the effort, too. An open posture, a positive expression, and reasonable eye contact can provide comfort in the eyes of others.
Nobody wants to work with a jerk. If you want to grow your business with the help of others, you have to treat them with consideration and deft human touch. Approachable people know what to do to alleviate stress and issues without overstepping boundaries.
On that same note:
3. It softens the deal and removes ego from the picture
In the entrepreneurial context, one of the main purposes of approachability is to build positive relationships that create an environment where all parties can function in the most favorable way.
In other words, you’re actually respecting everyone involved, which means there is less ego in the room (at least theoretically). Because we’re entrepreneurs, there’s bound to be some trace of ego. It’s in our nature to be so in our heads that we even don’t realize how much.
Being approachable effectively disarms such a situation and provides an opportunity for the other person to be on offense and not on defense, as many automatically do. There’s less acting in a selfish or over-domineering style, less pushing of opinions but more constructive conversation.
Communicating in a positive way goes a long way. This includes an appropriate volume, tactfully saying your piece (instead of being passive-aggressive), and disagreeing respectfully.
This is because approachability makes us appear more reliable, as research has shown that approachably delivered information is perceived as more legitimate than the same information delivered in a straightforward manner.
People’s ego is a weakness that may come in useful at some point, particularly if you need to convince them of something. It’s relatively easy to appeal to their self-importance but if you’re more concerned about getting the right things going, being kind and human is the way to go.
Being approachable is a business skill.
Sometimes we forget that on the other end of the business table are other people.
When we truly bring ourselves into a deal, when we see the people in front of us, and show them ourselves – the parents we are, the dad before CEO, the dreams and fears and vision – we set the stage for long term relationships that are based on solid grounds of mutual wants and needs.
Business is what we make of it. I say, keep it real. It’ll pay off.