Building Relationships: Don’t Make People Come to You

“Phil, don’t make people come to you. Go to them.”

That’s a piece of advice my Dad offered years ago that still resonates and drives my own practices as well as my teaching and advice to others.

My Dad was a really good “people person”. He was a leader at every level in his life. A four year class president in high school, fraternity president in college, rapidly promoted executive and a church and community leader. He was intuitive about others’ needs and how to get a lot out of them. (I actually had a former employee of his come up to me at his funeral several years ago and tell me “I hadn’t seen your Dad in over 25 years, but when I worked for him he changed my life and I wanted to come pay my respects.”)

Me pausing while I get emotional….OK, I’m back.

I actually can’t improve on his simple words, but will expand on what he meant and translate it into “management-speak”.

He didn’t just mean “meet at the other guy’s place” (although that’s part of his point). The deeper point is “go find people”. He was talking about concepts like “management by walking around”, “social network theory” and “servant leadership” before management books were written about them.

When we “go to people” several subtle, but important things go on at the same time.

“I value you enough to seek you out.”

Whether it’s a five minute chat on an issue, seeking out advice or just “water cooler chat”; you’ve made clear at a certain level that you care enough to seek me out. That is more important than you might think.

How do you feel when your boss drops by for five minutes to check in and ask how things are going? Probably good, right? Similarly, if you are junior staff and seek out mentoring from a more experienced or senior colleague, the mentor usually feels positively about the interaction.

You build space for personal connections to flourish

We live in a meeting-centric culture. So much happens in groups that we can forget how often we are controlling ourselves in that group context. In a one on one setting people are more relaxed and often willing to share more of themselves. Importantly they are also a lot more likely to say what they actually think.

This is a pro-active implementation of a social-networking strategy.

You’ll have more interactions, because most people won’t find you

We’re all busy. If you want to build positive social capital and network, you have to work at it. So don’t make it hard for me if you’re genuinely interested in what I have to say.

If you make it easy, we’ll chat more and you’re more likely to get a positive collision of information, insight and all sorts of other social capital.

People are more relaxed in their own environment and you learn important things about them

In your space, you have your stuff. You are probably behind your desk. You are in a comfortable position. Plus if you need to show me something, you probably have it right there. And your guard is likely not up.

What’s on the wall? What totems are displayed? Awards? Pictures of family? Is it neat? Messy?

All of these cues help you better understand someone else and can lead to a clearer picture of how to build a relationship. It doesn’t take six months of discussion to figure out they like fishing if there’s a picture on the wall.

It takes some emotional intelligence to take in all the cues, but even if you only get part of it you are coming out ahead.

You control the timing and amount of interaction. They actually can’t get away.

The tougher minded side of “seeking you out” is “I’m cornering you.” I make the point repeatedly to students that you have to be comfortable being a moderate pest if you ever expect to get anything done.

There’s nothing like consuming part of my physical space to get my attention. It’s a powerful motivator to get things to you to get rid of you.

What happens if you “make them come to you”?

Not much good.  You’re saying “I’m more important and I need you to come to me.” Even if you don’t mean to leave this message, it’s implied if you always summon others to you.

Or, you just don’t interact and miss opportunities to build relationships altogether.

You’ll know less, have weaker relationships and have lost an opportunity to make a really positive impression.

Are there times when you want to make others come to you? Sure. It’s just not most of the time!

When you find them, be useful

My Dad was big on service. His “go find people” advice has an implicit “so you can help them” built into it. It’s an effective tactic regardless of your intent, but is much more powerful if coupled with an actual interest in service to others.

So follow my Dad’s sage advice: Don’t make people come to you. Go to them.

7 thoughts on “Building Relationships: Don’t Make People Come to You

  1. I can’t believe no one commented yet. This is so true. I met so many smart people that are not doing so well, and the main problem seems to be that no one relevant knows about them. They didn’t make the effort of going out there and introduce themselves to people who can potentially help them or guide them in the right direction. And then they usually whine how unfair this world is.

  2. Hi Phil,

    It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to read some of your posts. I had forgotten how much I’ve enjoyed them. In my experience in corporate america… my ‘network’ has been worth its weight in gold on a daily basis! This is a great reminder of how a little effort can go a long way!

    Hope all is well with you!

    • Things are well. I end up as a broken record on relationships. But they end up playing out in critical ways throughout your career. If you can get a certain number of things done with 1 call or em, you’ll be waayyy more effective. particularly in a large organization.

  3. Well after reading about your dad and his moral teachings I have developed a huge sea of respect for him. Gold bless him,wherever he is. It is true if one loose hope and expect others to come to them , little will come in their hand. Only if one decides to do something concrete and goes out reaching to people will he get success.As someone rightly had said ‘ Success doesn’t come to you,you have to go to it.’
    How Good Are Your People Skills?
    This test finds out how well you interact with others.

  4. Hi Phil,

    I’d like to thank you very much for sharing your dad’s very valuable advise. It has tweaked my marketing and social networking plans. Of course, in a much better and positive way. I typed “How to make people come to me?” on Google and found your article. After reading it, I feel that I’ve gained more confidence as I’ve discovered a path.

    Again, thank you and your dad for your thoughts and advise.

    Best regards,


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