Most professional communicators spend their days working with people vs. products. Sure, some of us write about products—the technical specifications, warranties, benefits, etc., but we must extract that information from living, breathing subject matter experts (SME).

Suppose we solicit this information by interrupting the SME’s day without notice? We take the bull-in-a-china-shop approach, and we demand the information NOW. Afterall, we do have  a deadline. Then, we wrap up this human interaction with a pirouette out the door, failing to utter so much as a “thank-you.”

How likely is that SME to help the next time? And what kind of a reputation did we just build for ourselves within that brief encounter?

Honey vs. Vinegar

Here’s a scenario that happened to me a few years ago. A former colleague that I barely worked with and hadn’t heard from in a dozen years sent me her resume and cover letter out of the blue through LinkedIn. She wrote, “Since you are working in a market that I want to break into, I’ve attached my resume so that you can share it with your network.”

That’s a considerable ask (positioned as an assignment) from someone who barely gave me the time of day when we worked in the same department. Did I share her resume? No. I see “sharing” someone’s resume as an equivalent of a recommendation. I’m happy to open doors for someone whenever I’m able, but I am selective when it comes to recommendations. I don’t want my word diluted by an ill-placed recommendation of someone I barely know. I place a lot of value on recommendations from my peers.

Had the same person simply asked to schedule a phone call or a meeting over coffee to discuss my experience in the market and any tips I might be able to offer, I would have made the time as a professional courtesy. Then, if I didn’t hear any red flags about her from mutual acquaintances, and if I had a positive, personal discussion with her and a nice follow-up, she may have gotten the end result she was looking for.

Her approach: vinegar. My approach: honey.

As a professional communicator, it took me a while to slow down and remember my Great Aunt Mary’s advice, “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Further into my career than I’d like to admit, I was inherently more task-oriented than people-oriented. I also lack patience. I realize that those aren’t the best ingredients for good relationships. But as my experience and self-awareness matured, I was entrusted to manage large projects that required the support of many subject matter experts and dedicated support teams. Somewhere along the way, I learned that honey was the glue needed to keep these relationships in good standing.

Not only did the work get accomplished beyond expectations, but the work was more fulfilling. Many of my professional relationships evolved into personal friendships. Whenever I invested time and effort into understanding and respecting the needs, strengths, and challenges of others, and then recognized and reciprocated their efforts, it almost always generated significant returns, personally and professionally.

Great Aunt Mary’s advice offers a simple but proven technique to achieve what you want while subtly sowing seeds, growing relationships one positive encounter at a time.

“If you build it, they will come.”

(Field of Dreams, 1989)

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business.” That’s advice from Scott Stratten, a Canadian key-note speaker and president of He’s also the author of UnMarketing and The Jackass Whisperer: How to Deal with the Worst People at Work, at Home and Online Even When the Jackass is You.

Stratten reminds audiences that “integrity is not a renewable source.” Strong relationships and the trust that comes with them are built over time.

Relationships are also quite fragile. Regardless of how much time is invested in building them, one negative encounter can tear them down within minutes.

I’m sure we can all recall a time or two when a boss or colleague is blasting the kindness faucet just to get something in return. If that’s not their authentic behavior, the “honey approach” feels more like you’re being slimed. It comes across as manipulative, rather than authentic, and the trust level from those on the receiving end quickly shifts into a death spiral.

Think about another time when an ambitious colleague (or your boss) suddenly took credit for your work in an effort to advance themselves.  Is that relationship still in good standing? Or did that trust crumble the moment that proverbial knife pierced your back?

Moments like these can kill a relationship. They can also trigger strong feelings that may result in career-ending reactions. That’s why a combination of  personal and social awareness is key to establishing, maintaining, and growing strong relationships.

Emotional Intelligence

The term, “emotional intelligence” emerged around 1990, attributed to American psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey.  A former president of Yale University, Salovey worked with Mayer to define and measure emotional intelligence and research its significance. Shortly after, Dr. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and science journalist expanded their work, publishing his book, Emotional Intelligence in 1995. This sparked continued research and a revolutionary approach to success through self-awareness and self-control.

What is emotional intelligence and how do we know if we have it? Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves,  co-authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 define it as “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 continues to build on the work initiated by Mayer and Salovey, allowing readers to benchmark their current EQ through an online assessment tool. It also serves as a practical guide to help individuals increase their EQ and in turn, their success.

While there is ongoing debate over whether one can improve baseline intelligence (IQ), or one’s capacity to learn, emotional intelligence can most certainly improve over time. That’s good news for our ability to build and strengthen relationships, even if we’re not naturally wired like Nelson Mandela.

According to Bradberry and Greaves, emotional intelligence is comprised of four integrated skills:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Relationship management

The first two relate to personal competence, the final two relate to social competence. You can’t effectively manage relationships without understanding and ideally mastering the other competencies.

Without too much of a “spoiler alert” for those who haven’t read the book, the “how to” list includes identifying three strategies to overcome your weaknesses, working with an EQ mentor, a LOT of practice and of course, measuring your progress.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Like any form of personal or professional growth, there are growing pains. But any crisis communicator will tell you that it is less painful (and less expensive) to avoid a crisis than to clean up the mess afterward, especially if you are the crisis.

Tara Mogan Blom, MMC, ABC, is the CEO and founder of DGA Communications. Originally from Arizona, she holds a master’s degree in mass communication (MMC) and is accredited through IABC. Blom is an award-winning writer published in hundreds of media channels throughout her career. As a veteran strategist, Blom provides communication plans, assessments, consultation and coaching, bridging a gap that exists for many organizations. She currently serves as VP of Communications for IABC DC Metro.