Four Laws For Building Deep, Personal Relationships with Clients

By Andrew Sobel

The story about Sir Isaac Newton and the apple tree, according to historians, is true. While sitting under the tree, he saw an apple fall straight to the ground. This made him wonder what underlying principle was pulling the apple off the tree. He soon formulated his laws of gravity.

Just as there are laws of physics that determine how an apple falls from a tree or the success of an airplane flying, there are hidden laws that determine whether your client relationships grow or wither.

In this newsletter, which is the third in a series, I share four additional Relationship Laws that will help you resonate with others by creating an emotional, personal connection. Until you do this, your relationship will always be “arms length.” These Laws are taken from my new book Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships.  


Vulnerability fuels emotional connections

Modern research by psychologists has shown that emotional vulnerability creates relationship intimacy. Whether you’re a man or a woman, this idea may make you uneasy. Don’t get nervous, however—emotional vulnerability does not exactly mean showing people how weak you are. It involves sharing feelings and creating emotional resonance with the other person. It means connecting on a personal level.

One study showed that when people make a greater effort to be truthful and tell fewer lies, they report that “their close personal relationships had improved and that their social interactions overall had gone more smoothly.” Another study has shown that when we are withholding the truth, the other person’s blood pressure rises.

Until you connect on an emotional and personal level, your client relationships will always be arms-length and somewhat formal. Let the Sixteenth Law of relationships guide you: Vulnerability is power. If you’re always buttoned-down, rational, and formal with clients, you’ll never bring your relationships to their highest level.

How do you demonstrate vulnerability in a healthy way? Here are a few examples:

  • Don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry or admit you were wrong.
  • Empathize openly with others.
  • Talk about how you feel—not just think—about an important issue.
  • Ask for advice.
  • Use humor—joke about yourself. Admit to a shortcoming.
  • Discuss an issue that’s vexing or challenging you.
  • Share (appropriately) the personal side of your life.

The quality that energizes everyone around you

How do you react to people who never emote? Worse, who appear bored with everything around them? People who never seem to show any excitement for life? They’re like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip—she is always finding fault and never seeing the positive side of things.

Chances are these individuals pull you down and diminish your own energy. If you have an evening free, they’re not your first choice for a night out.

But what about people who are enthusiastic and passionate about what they do? There’s something magnetic about them. They draw others in and lift them up. They are aligned with Relationship Law Twenty-Four: Enthusiasm is contagious.

Enthusiasm comes from a Greek word meaning, “having God within you.” Lack of it can overshadow and diminish talent. Think back to the British pop group Oasis. They were firmly anointed as the next Beatles. During their first US tour, they appeared bored and insolent on stage. They flopped, and later, even their English fans got tired of their blasé attitude. Contrast that with the endless energy the real Beatles exuded on stage, or the indefatigable Rolling Stones who are still exciting audiences as they enter their 70s.

Your own enthusiasm influences everyone around you. It attracts others to you. It makes people want to be in a relationship with you. Great enthusiasm makes you a force of nature. It inspires commitment. It makes you a powerful influencer.

The source of relationship breakthroughs

Something powerful happens when you and the other person experience your relationship in a new environment. In Power Relationships, we tell the story of a top Citigroup executive who was on a trip abroad with a client. Terrorists attacked their hotel, and they spent the night together fleeing the terrorists through the hotel and alleyways around it. Their relationship was indelibly changed as a result.

You don’t have to go through such an extreme crucible to see the positive effect of changing the relationship environment—something far tamer will suffice.

Here’s an example. You might bring a client to a conference in a city where neither of you live. You’ll probably end up spending hours over dinner together. You’ll get to know each other better. You’ll talk about different things than you normally would. The relationship will be intensified. Deepened. Stretched. Spending more time with your client in the office could never have the same impact.

Changing the environment will also deeply affect relationships with friends and family. My own family will never forget a nine-day river-rafting trip we took in Utah. It was arduous, with mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds. Scorpions. River snakes. Sizzling heat. Exhausting days. But today we still laugh about the trip. It bonded us. Brought us closer. It created a spectacular, communal memory.

Follow Law Twelve if you want to create a deeper personal connection with your clients: Change the environment and you’ll deepen the relationship

Generosity transforms relationships

One of my longstanding clients, Steve Pfeiffer, recently stepped down as chairman of a leading international law firm. Steve’s extraordinary accomplishments are enough to make even the most successful person feel like an underachiever: Commander in the US Naval Reserve, Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law School, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Wesleyan, law firm CEO, and more.

Setting aside his notable professional success, I was always struck by two things about Steve: His powerful network and his endless generosity. It turns out these are intimately connected. I’ve heard him on the phone with powerful US senators and moments later watched him chat with an Amtrak porter about the Yankees with equal ease and pleasure.  But his power relationships aren’t just due to his relational skills, as finely developed as they are. His powerful network is also based on his willingness to always lend a hand to others.

His role model was his own father, who was always lending a helping hand to people in need in his community in a small New Jersey town. Steve summed it up in a few, very simple words: “My father taught me that you should always be looking for ways to help the people around you. There’s always something you can do, even if it’s a very small thing. There’s always someone around you who has a need.”

Steve followed in his father’s footsteps. For years he’s mentored a small handful of young men from fatherless homes, helping with the cost of their education. Recently, he helped a young girl from Sierra Leone get a visa and travel to the United States to be treated for horrific damage she suffered while undergoing a forced circumcision. He has served on the board of directors for Project Hope, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and many other organizations.

Steve’s and his father’s example became Relationship Law Fourteen in our book: There’s always something, no matter how small, that you can do to help the people around you.

Remember: Every act of generosity creates a ripple that has an untold impact on others you don’t even know. Go out of your way to help a client when they encounter a difficult patch. Be generous with your time and wisdom in all of your relationships. Always be looking for ways to help and lift up those around you. You’ll be richly rewarded with power relationships at work and in your personal life. More importantly, you’ll leave an indelible mark on those you’ve helped.


Click here to get a copy of Power Relationships now on, and then you can download the 90-page Personal Planning Guide for free!

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