“Check Please”: The Art of Building Relationships Over A Meal

After completing “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Last”, I figured I’d take a break from leadership philosophy books and choose one for personal enrichment… more specifically, how to improve and maintain personal relationships. I’ve always thought the concepts behind the “5 Love Languages” was pretty interesting, so I downloaded Dr. Chapman’s book and started listening to it.

The idea that this wouldn’t be a book that impacted my leadership outlook was a facility.; the study of how relationships work and how people feel appreciated seems to be a pretty fundamental part of being a good leader.  After a few causal lunch outings recently, I started to formulate how a lunch could be used to build professional relationships.

“Check Please”: The Art of Building Relationships Over A Meal

Based upon the last two readings by Sinek, it seems that many companies lack communication, which creates a lack of relationships, leading to a lack of trust and security. To improve this, a potential solution might be for a supervisor make it a point to plan lunch with one or two employees a week that they oversee.

It isn’t a date, so don’t make the location anywhere too fancy, but something a little better than fast food. And just have a conversation. Listen to their ideas, learn about them, and don’t be too guarded about yourself.

Listen sympathetically, drawing them out by asking questions with a genuine desire to understand their thoughts, feelings, and hopes. The conversation doesn’t have to be about work, however if they skew that way, the objective is to understand, so resist the temptation to interrupt of defend yourself… perhaps they need to vent.

Pay attention to them, not looking around the room or checking your phone every 5 minutes. If you get an e-mail that you absolutely have to respond to immediately, let them know “My apologies, I want to give you my undivided attention, please give me 3 minutes to respond to this e-mail.”

At the end of the meal, thank them for their time, let them know that they have been heard and that, although you may not be able to do anything about their ideas immediately, you appreciate their input and will follow up with them if it develops into anything. Just before the end of the meal, let them know one thing you appreciate about them and their work. Be genuine, not a canned response, and something that shows you either listened to them or are familiar and appreciative with their efforts.

Why it (hypothetically) works:

This interaction hits on 4 of the 5 established love languages (excluding touch… let’s not make things weird). In a business scenario, substitute appreciation for love.

Quality Time – By spending time with them one-on-one and being actively engaged, they’ll feel appreciated.

Act of Service – The act of wanting to hear them voice their opinions and learn about them serves as an act of service. If it’s appropriate to offer them a ride to drive over together, it takes this concept one step further.

Gift – Although a minor investment, the gesture of buying their meal is a perceived as a gift. It seems slightly cheapened if it’s done so on the company card rather than out of pocket, however honestly, it’s unlikely anyone will really notice the difference.

Words of Affirmation – That little bit at the end will have them returning to work feeling on Cloud 9. Encouraging words is one of the cheapest investments for morale.

The book states that “Relationships are not a project to be completed or a problem to be solved”. By exercising this method, even just investing 1 hour a week in it, you might be surprised at the impact it could have on the culture of your company. Not only might you learn about new ideas, employee ambitions, or hidden talents, however you might inspire others to encourage their staff or find themselves collaborating more through similar tactics.

If you try it, let me know how it goes!


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