Understanding interests is key to building relationships

Whether you are working in the public or private sector, building strong, positive relationships is critical to success.

In today’s complex and dynamic world, it is very difficult, if not almost impossible, to get things done on your own. When working with others to accomplish goals, having strong relationships is necessary for success. While established relationships are built on trust and experience, building new relationships with new partners can often be a difficult and time-consuming effort. Understanding interests is key to building relationships that will be mutually beneficial to you and your partners.

There are three key types of interests: self-interest, shared interest and common interest.

Self-interest asks: What’s in it for me? What will I get out of it? Self-interest may be in terms of a product, profit, political gain, public recognition or other benefits. While self-interest is driven by personal gain with little or no consideration of other’s gain, it is not necessarily selfish. For example, a corporation has a responsibility to increase profits for its shareholders and grow its operations, so partnering with someone to increase production or profitability is good for the overall business’s bottom line.

Shared interest asks: Is there something in it for both of us that gives us a shared interest in a successful outcome? Shared interest is symbiotic, that is, what benefits one benefits the other, although those benefits may or may not be different for each partner. For example, a city council, county building inspection department and neighborhood group work together to develop and pass a rental housing inspection code. The city council and county building inspection department share a common interest in maintaining safe rental structures, while the city council and neighborhood group share a common interest in maintaining the character of neighborhoods. In this example, the county building inspection department and neighborhood group may not have a common interest.

Common interest is an interest in the common good that goes beyond narrow self-interest and shared interest in the direction of altruism. Common interests may be more general than self-interest or shared interest. For example, a healthy environment or a strong economy may be a common interest.

With each type of interest, it is important to identify the gain for your partner. It is also important to recognize that the apparent gain may not necessarily be the principle gain motivating their interest. By identifying others interest, you can leverage that interest to build lasting relationships.

This work on the importance of understanding interests as they relate to relationship building was developed by Yellow Wood Associates who provided permission for use of their materials in this article. These concepts are integrated into WealthWorks training, a program currently being implemented by a team in West Michigan which includes a Michigan State University Extension educator serving as project coordinator.

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