Whether we’re out at the customer’s site with suppliers or events; whether we negotiate, respond to emails or participate in calls: We talk, we write, we listen. In short, we communicate. Because we are driven by the objectives to create a better programme, to deliver a better service, to foster innovation and to motivate others to be better than the competition.

So, what makes some individuals and some organisations more successful than others in delivering their programmes and services with consistent quality via sustainable and long-term relationships?

The list of professional must-have skills is endless and already sufficiently covered by top-selling management books with flashy titles. Based on my experience in the industry, I would like to share three ideas that will help you deliver a better service and be the partner to your customer that you’ve promised to be.

Speak up. Negotiating contracts and building business cases over the length of many years is a risky enterprise. You try to predict the future, often with new partners to the programme and usually with many unknown assumptions and parameters to consider. It is vital to confirm and re-confirm your assumptions with all parties. But that does no good if all we receive is a “Yes, we can”, “It might be difficult, but we’ll strive to deliver”, “We are always keen to take up a challenge”.

There’s a fine line between being politically correct and being honest. When working with people from different cultures, or when starting off on a new customer-supplier relationship, communication tends to be more formal and issues are not easily addressed. I call this political correctness, even though this is slightly different from its original meaning. No one likes to say, “No”; no one likes to say, “I have no idea what you are talking about”; and no one likes to say, “This is a bad idea. I completely disagree with you”. I rarely hear things like these, and when I do, I am assured that I am dealing with someone who knows his/ her business and who is confident enough to speak up and be honest.

Jumping imaginary fences. Whether you are talking to your own colleagues, to customers, suppliers or competitors, we are surrounded by separators. Organisation charts put people into boxes, organisations, functions and teams. Business cards, badges and name tags clearly state the name of our employers and separate us from those who are not with us. Contracts define relationships and the roles and responsibilities of their parties. All of that is necessary in order to provide structure to complex systems.

I suggest viewing these separators merely as imaginary fences and having the courage to jump over them in order to reach out and connect with what lies beyond. I find it unfortunate when I witness situations where experience isn’t shared or concerns aren’t voiced because of these separators. Of course, trust always goes two ways. You have to trust someone and be sure that you receive trust in return. Talking to some of my peers and colleagues about this, they confirmed that when approached in an open and trustful manner, it was natural for them to respond in the same way.

Speak out of the box. I have no doubt that having the confidence and right discernment to speak out of the box will always pay off in building more solid and successful relationships. In my experience, suppliers — especially those with whom I share little history — will usually try hard to make issues look smaller than they really are or describe risks from their own perspective. I expect more open communication, though. When establishing relationships, I will talk openly about the kind of relationship and communication style that I want to have. I will define my programme vision and mission and expect open and honest communication across hierarchies and organisations. So follow suit. Be a role model and practise what you preach. You will help your clients build a better programme with more solid relationships, which will be known in the industry and appreciated all the way down to our contingent workers.