Relationships are important – and I’m not just talking about romantic relationships either. Having a strong network of friends can help you to maintain sanity when work gets challenging, when personal issues may start to put you to the tipping point or just help make unique experiences significantly better (such as when traveling or eating out). For example, one experience that I’m particularly excited about is traveling to another city and hanging out with a friend that I normally hang out with there (i.e., we both happen to be traveling to a different city at the same time). I’m not really sure why I feel this way – perhaps there’s novelty in the different surroundings but I also think that it’s because we get to experience a different surrounding and environment together too.

To that end, I’ve collected a variety of tips to help you cultivate or develop better relationships – whether it’s with a restaurant, friends, co-workers or even your significant other. These are things that I’ve found useful in my life and I hope that you will find them useful in yours.

On building relationships with restaurants

I was reading a blog about a successful investor who travels a lot. He was sharing his tip on cultivating a relationship with a restaurant and his advice is that if you are trying to develop that relationship, to go to the same few restaurants on a regular basis and to tip well (not so much to break the bank but enough that it gets the restaurant to notice you, say 40%). He reasoned that if people treated restaurants like commodities (that is, going to a new and different restaurant each time you go out), the restaurants would also treat people like commodities. Therefore, when he travels to another city, he goes to the same three restaurants every single time, tips well and as a result, the restaurants always provide excellent service to him.

I decided to do the same thing – more so out of convenience but whenever I travel and crave Japanese food (sushi), I go to the same place in Chinatown. The waiters and the chef know me (though perhaps not by name) and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that when I order my usual (chirashi don), they provide extra fish that they do not normally provide to other customers.

Do you go to the same places all the time? Why or why not? Do you expect excellent service from places that you only go once or twice to in your lifetime?

On connecting with others

When I first moved to my current city, I remember attending a Toastmaster meeting and telling everyone as part of my introduction that I was interested in networking. Luckily for me, one individual came up to me during the break and told me about a networking event and that he wanted to invite me there. I was terrible at networking, but I managed to meet with one individual who taught me a few things about meals, MBAs and about life in general. When I mentioned that I was looking to do my MBA, the individual put me in touch with several people from his network to provide their perspectives on the ROI of an MBA, whether the specific school is important and other questions that I had.

It’s not enough to connect with people, you also have to let them know what it is that you are looking for. Some great connectors will ask you but unless you put it out there, people can’t help you.

On remembering conversation topics and other key details

My good friend and who I’d like to think of as an unofficial mentor Shawn Kanungo taught me a strategy for remembering things about other people. Every time he would get into conversations with important people in his life (or people that he saw regularly), he would remember a few key facts and details and then take notes on it so that he can remember it for later. For example, if one of his friends talked about their son going to a soccer tournament, he would note it down and the next time he saw his friend, he would bring up the notes and then ask about the son and the soccer tournament. He claims that doing this has provided him with free rides, free meals and many other benefits (and I believe him).

I do this to some extent – I note down things such as coffee preferences for my client and teammates, likes and dislikes of my close friends (for gift shopping) and names of individuals that I meet at parties or networking events. With handy technology available, it’s easy to make use of it to help you in social situations.

Don’t rely on your memory to remember everything. A dull pencil is infinitely better than a sharp mind

On how to use your network

I am not claiming to be an expert networker – far from it actually. But one of the things that I have been trying to do is figure out how to improve my network – and the one thing that I try to do is connect individuals that might benefit from a partnership or from meeting each other. I have one friend looking for work and another friend who works in the industry that my other friend wants to work in – so I connect the two and let them cultivate the relationship. I don’t ask for anything in return. Sometimes I’ll follow up on things to see how its going and other times I just disappear into the bushes like Homer did in one episode of the Simpsons. Will it come back to benefit me in the future? I don’t know for sure but in some way it might.

One of the ways that I provide value to people in my network is by connecting them with others based on their needs and wants. I’m sure there are other ways to provide value though – what are some things that you do?

On the mindset with connecting with others

At Deloitte, we came together as an office to celebrate individuals that had been nominated for outstanding work, contribution or service in support of the firm. I remember the story of one individual – they did not provide the name at the start as a way to build suspense and they talked about how this individual had supported many people in the firm. Every time he had a coffee with someone else, he would use the acronym “WCIHYW?” which stood for “What can I help you with?” He didn’t ask for anything in return and all he wanted to do was understand if there was anything that he could help with. That question is extremely powerful – in fact, it’s a great question for anyone that you may be having coffee with or anyone in your life.

Don’t connect with others to get things from them. Connect with others to help them because by helping others, you will be helped in return

On gift giving

I have often thought that the best gifts are those that do not come as part of a special celebration or when you expect it. The best gifts are the surprise ones that show up and somehow match a need or a want of an individual. One gift that I gave a few of my friends were badminton bags – they needed bags to store their gear (rather than using a gym bag or a backpack) and I had chatted with them many times and knew that they were looking to get it. I decided to get it for them in advance and my friends were very pleasantly surprised.

Use your social notes and note down what your friends want. Look for it and get something special for them when they least expect it

On the most valuable thing you can provide to others

I’m ashamed to say that sometimes when i’m with friends, I pay more attention to my phone than to them. Putting a phone between yourself and your friend is not the way that you want to cultivate a relationship. The most valuable thing you can provide to others is your time and attention. Be present with your friends and loved ones. If you have to work, finish a game, watch a key moment on Game of Thrones – that’s all okay but make sure you let others know to give you a few minutes to finish whatever you’re doing so that you can be fully present with them later.

Attention – the most valuable resource that can provide to others

On keeping in touch with others in different cities

It just so happens (and I’m sure it’s the same with others) that I have friends that live in different cities. Maybe they temporarily went to the same school that I did but moved back home. Maybe they moved away for work. Whatever the reason, I have quite a few close friends that live in different cities and as a result, it is very hard to keep in touch. To get around this, I decided that I would do something a bit unconventional – I scheduled in regular skype calls with friends that I want to keep in touch with. We don’t have to keep every single appointment but having it in the calendar means that we have to ‘opt out’ every time we get to the event rather than ‘opting in’. As humans, we like to do things by default and it takes effort to change our minds so opting out is a great strategy to do more of what you know you should be doing (like exercising or calling your parents).

Do you have friends that you haven’t talked to in a while but want to keep in touch with? Think about scheduling regular skype calls with them

On negative people

Just as important as making sure you cultivate relationships with positive loving kind people in your life, is to reduce or remove the negative people in your life. People that are negative take away from your time, energy and your patience and if they do not have a positive impact on your life, why spend time around those kinds of people? Spending time with negative people just means less time with others that can make you happier and remember, you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with so by spending more time around happy, successful and ambitious individuals, you yourself will be happier, more successful and ambitious.

Who are people that are not adding to your life? Are you spending a lot of time with them? Who do you spend the most time with and are they contributing positively to your life?

What do you think of these tips? What do you do to build and cultivate relationships in your life? Let me know in the comments!