How to Foster Mutually Beneficial Relationships

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Who Not How" by Dan Sullivan. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can hiring more personnel help you improve your personal relationships? What two things can you do to improve your mutually beneficial relationships?

Mutually beneficial relationships aren’t always focused on romance—it’s important to deepen your connections with others, even at work. In their book Who Not How, Sullivan and Hardy explain that there are two ways of strengthening your personal relationships: by giving generously and by engaging wholeheartedly.

Continue reading to learn how personal relationships benefit both parties and how to grow them.

Personnel Improves Your Relationships

Investing in personnel saves you time, energy, and money—and you can spend those, the authors of Who Not How say, to develop deeper, more fulfilling relationships.

Investing in personnel isn’t just about hiring experts for your business—it’s also about investing your time and energy in mutually beneficial relationships. As you free up your time and accumulate resources, the authors explain, it’s natural to deepen your focus on personnel—on people—and the connections you make with them. In doing so, Sullivan and Hardy explain, you further your personal growth more quickly than you could alone.

(Shortform note: Psychologically speaking, connecting with others strengthens our emotional resilience and comfort with intellectual risk-taking—both of which benefit an entrepreneur—but Sullivan’s idea of “growth” is much more tangible. What he means is that if someone’s around to help you, you’ll learn skills much more quickly than you would alone.)

Sullivan and Hardy outline two ways to optimize your connections with others: Ensure you’re not approaching them transactionally, and engage wholeheartedly.

1. Give Generously, Not Transactionally

To really connect with others, the authors say, you must discard transactionality. In other words, stop thinking about what’s in it for you—let go of the cost mentality. When you always try to get more out of people than you give, Sullivan and Hardy explain, your relationships fall apart—you become a drain on the resources, time, and energy of others, and they don’t benefit from being around you. Instead, whether you’re attempting to connect personally or professionally, be generous and focus your attention on what you can give. For instance, ask yourself what you can do to improve the other person’s ability to achieve their goals. If you do, people will flock to you.

(Shortform note: In Drive, Daniel H. Pink elaborates that transactionality ruins relationships by boiling them down to a series of rewards and punishments. In short, not only will nobody you treat transactionally go above and beyond for you, they’ll intentionally give you their bare minimum. Why? Because you show them there’s no point in interacting with you unless you reward them for it.)

It’s especially important to be generous in your personal relationships, the authors note. If you have children, for example, you’re key “personnel” for them—your resources, knowledge, and attention are critical determinants of their success. When you invest generously in them, you dramatically improve their ability to achieve stellar outcomes in their lives. When you don’t, you do irreparable harm to their chances of success, as well as to your relationship.

(Shortform note: Children provide a remarkable return on investment—financially and emotionally. Just giving your child time and attention on a daily basis improves the quality of the relationships they build and seek, as well as their emotional well-being. An emotionally healthy child with a strong relational support network is primed for a happier, more financially stable future: Their better health outcomes save them money on healthcare and their improved learning outcomes lead to better employment opportunities.)

2. Engage Wholeheartedly or Don’t Engage at All

When you spend time with others—especially in your personal life—Sullivan and Hardy suggest, commit wholeheartedly to doing so. Your spouse won’t appreciate the time you spend together if you’re absent-mindedly thinking about work, and you won’t benefit from it either. That time will be wasted. To give yourself the best chance to deepen your connection, ensure you can be fully present and committed.

(Shortform note: Wholeheartedness is similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”: a state in which you’re so immersed in an experience that you let go of everything outside of it. According to him, flow is an optimal state that allows a degree of engagement and connection that’s otherwise impossible—we’re entirely present, so we don’t miss anything about the moment. What Sullivan’s suggesting is that you give your loved ones this degree of focus.)

If someone gives you their all, commit to them. Sullivan and Hardy explain that as you continue investing in people—professionally and personally—you start to see who stands out, elevating your business and life. Give those people your best, the authors say; wholeheartedly support and uplift them. You’ll get their best in return, and build meaningful, mutually impactful relationships.

(Shortform note: In addition, Fintech program director Sar Haribhakti suggests that the skills you learn from helping others are just as valuable as the connections you make. When you take every opportunity you can to make those around you more successful, he says, you end up in situations you’d otherwise never explore. The insights you gain while outside your comfort zone may lead you to new entrepreneurial opportunities or help you break into unexplored fields.)

However, even if you have the capacity to take them on, Sullivan and Hardy warn, only say “yes” to people or projects you’re wholeheartedly excited to work with and are the right person for. Doing so ensures that your time, energy, resources, and attention remain focused in the direction that best suits your purpose and goals.

(Shortform note: Many entrepreneurs advocate for following your heart and doing what excites you because that engagement motivates you to drive forward. Billionaire Richard Branson says that the goal of entrepreneurship is to turn what excites you into capital so that you can do more of it—if what you’re doing isn’t fun, he says, you should probably be doing something else.)

How to Foster Mutually Beneficial Relationships

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dan Sullivan's "Who Not How" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Who Not How summary:

  • Why you should stop trying to do everything yourself and just hire someone
  • Why minimizing cost should not be the primary goal
  • How you can reclaim your valuable time at work and home

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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