Added On: Sunday, November 04, 2007

Make Allies

A lot people don't see the point of putting in extra effort to make friends with those who cross their path. A waiter is there to serve me, a work colleague is there to help me, and a boss is there to direct me, they think. What's the point in trying to form any sort of meaningful connection with these people?

This is a big mistake, I think. It takes a clockwork view of the world, with other people as mere cogs without feelings or needs. Even worse, are those who view the world in terms of status, and use it to inflict pain on others through misuse of power. They damage not only their victims, but also themselves.

The classic case of this is the person who's rude to waiters in restaurants for no good reason other than that they can be. They see the waiter as a powerless underling on which to inflict their own shallow ego.

Personally, rather than a clock, I see the human world as a series of networks. Status may be a nice way to measure your success at any particular moment, but it isn't fixed. Today's king can be tomorrow's pauper, and vice-versa. One of the best long-term strategies for getting ahead in such a world is to build yourself a list of allies. And you should not be particularly fussy in doing so.

The future is often uncertain. You never really know what kind of opportunities or challenges are going to be presented to you down the line. And thus, you're never really sure what sort of people are going to be of help to you.

Of course, most people don't really see this. They think they can judge whether a person's friendship will ever be useful to them in ten seconds flat. They judge others much in the same way that dogs sniff each others bottoms - this one's good, that one's bad.

The thing is, from a rational viewpoint, you might as well try to make an ally out of pretty much everyone you ever have to deal with. It's easy to do and so cheap it's virtually free. Most people are so accustomed to being trodden on by the strangers they meet, that a friendly and caring face will stand out as special pretty much straight away. Just by being polite, nice, and ready to listen, you're likely to form the beginnings of an alliance with a fellow human being.

And once you have such an ally, they can be an enormous benefit - even years down the line. I've seen people permanently damage their careers because they were rude to an underling who went on to become a manager. And I've seen powerful people gain a fresh insight into a situation from a new graduate.

Friends like to help each other out. Just believing that someone is a friend will give them an enormous benefit in any situation where favor can be given. And the more friends you have, the more favors you can expect.

Each individual benefit may be small, on average, but they can add up to an enormous reward. And because forming allies generally costs little more than the odd five-minute chat or small gift to show you care, the price is virtually nil.

People who ignore, abuse, and belittle others for no reason other than they can miss this important point. They certainly miss out on a huge number of opportunities, simply because they think forming friends and allies is beneath them.

It might be as small as a suggestion for the fresher type of fish from a waiter or a tip-off about a better deal by a sales assistant. Or it might be as big as a job promotion or an introduction to an attractive partner who you go on to marry. Whatever the rewards, a conscious effort to forming the habit of making allies can pay off big time.

And, of course, you get the emotional warmth of real human contact in a sometimes uncaring world. What could be more worthwhile than that?


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