Robbie Samuels

How to build great relationships at work

23 Sep 2019   |   Culture

Robbie Samuels

How to build great relationships at work

23 Sep 2019   |   Culture

Too often people act as if they share some knowledge with someone, they’re going to lose something. When you give away knowledge it doesn’t doesn’t deplete like the way money or time does. ​

A strong, healthy relationships with colleagues and peers is the most successful thing you can do for your career. But you don’t just want to create it when you need a job. It takes time and energy to build relationships at work. ​

Robbie Samuels tells us how to leave the scarcity mindset behind and truly believe in the abundance of what you have to offer. ​

What we learned from this episode

-The difference between digital and physical relationships.

-Tips for how to prepare for conferences and networking events.​

-Why you need to focus on your relationship now, and not when you need work.​​

What you can do right now

-Stop attending every event. Select one or two events strategically and set clear expectations of what you want with the events and the people you’d meet there. Follow up on people and nurture relationships for the long term.​

-Take relationships to the next level: meet in person, connect on a new platform, send a personal note or a recommendation.​

-Always be nurturing your network. -Make a list of 20 people from your work history and reach out to them.​​

Key quotes

“When you’re in that space and you’re trying to figure out where do I go, don’t go stand in the corner, don’t stand on the side of the room as a wallflower. Get into the space and look for those natural openings, look for those croissants.” ​

“We occasionally find ourselves in the space where we aren’t like everyone else, or we don’t feel like everyone else. And so, why would we want to put that on other people? And this is what I call the downside to being a unicorn. You think it’s all rainbows and sunny skies, but it’s hard.”​​

Links mentioned​​​​​

Today, our guest is Robbie Samuels. He’s a keynote speaker, author, and relationship-based business strategist. And this is Work Minus Scarcity. Hi, Robbie. How are you?

Really good. Thanks for having me.

Excited to have you on. This is a really interesting topic. We’re talking about Work Minus Scarcity and we’re going to come at it from a different angle. But I want you to just introduce yourself to our guests and talk about how you got into your field.

Well, I have always loved organizing events and meeting people. It’s actually been a way for me to feel welcomed into a space. And so, I ran meetup groups and conferences and things like that for years. And now I actually work with associations to increase retention, engagement, and member value by creating more welcoming and inclusive conference experiences. So, my work sort of come full circle. And I think the idea of abundance is definitely woven through as is the inclusion piece.

So, we’re talking about relationships. We’re talking sort of about networking, sort of not about networking as well. So, let’s get into this. How do you define Work Minus Scarcity? What does that mean for you?

I think that too often people act as if I share some knowledge with someone, then I’m going to lose something. And so, I’m going to give you an example, I was just talking to a colleague, she’s going to a conference and she says, “Oh, my gosh, I just saw that another person in my space, meaning sort of a not quite in a direct competitor, but someone who’s in the same IT space was going to be there.” And she got all nervous about it. And I said, “Well, hey, here’s an outside the box idea. Why not invite them to lunch? Why not convene a bunch of people that are going to be there from that space? And then you’ll be the convener.” And she was like, “I intellectually know what you mean. But I’m really nervous about this idea. And I’m afraid that I might, I don’t know, give something away, or say something that’s wrong, or something will just blow up in my face.” And I was like, to me, I’m like, wow, how can we just operate in a way where there’s more than enough, they’re not a direct competitor, they may even be actually a collaborator, they may make an introduction for you down the line, they might just be a champion of what you’re doing or just appreciate and get what you’re doing. So for me, like leaving behind that scarcity mindset and really believing in the abundance of what we do, the offerings to the world, and surrounding ourselves with people who value that, who live those values, I think that’s just a much more rich and easy way of living than one where you’re scarcity and fear based around how you make decisions.

So, we’re talking about an abundance of relationships. Would you define it another way, too? Abundance of knowledge? Abundance of opportunities?

So, I’ve been operating for the last 15 years with what I call the philosophy of abundance, which is that if I give away knowledge, it doesn’t deplete me in the same way than if I give away time or money. If I give away time or money, yeah, I do, it’s a finite resource, I give less time and less money. But when I give away knowledge, it actually increases the opportunities for those around me, which then actually increases my opportunities as well. And so, I never hesitate, I mean, I’m probably known for being very generous with what I know, the resources that I share, because I actually don’t see that as depleting me. I see that as a gift that then builds up my world, my network, my community. And I see this very different than money and time. And I think it’s a great way to share what you have and be abundantly minded is to share your knowledge.

So, you talk about giving away time and money as something that’s finite. I’m going to jump to one of my personal questions here. There’s always that dilemma of when you have an opportunity to meet somebody, not necessarily at a networking event or at a conference or something like that, but it seems like a decent connection to make. But you have to judge whether or not that’s worth your time. How do you handle that decision? Do you always say yes if somebody invites you out? Or do you often say no, maybe not? How do you make those decisions?

It’s a great question. And years ago, I used to spend a lot of time meeting people for coffee, and letting them “pick my brain,” which is a phrase I think we should all just like leave behind in the 80s. So, nowadays, because we have the ability to meet online, I have a scheduling software that makes booking a time with me really easy. And so, if I don’t know exactly why the person is reaching out, if it’s more of that, like, I want to pick your brain, I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee, I have a link for a 20-minute chat. And usually I prefer a video chat because then I do feel like I get to know them. But it could be a phone call. And even if they live local to me, I still make that the suggestion as opposed to meeting up in person because then it’s 20 minutes of my time and maybe a little longer because I tend to go a little over if they’re interesting. But that’s my way of navigating that. And if it’s someone that I feel definitely I want to get to know them, I have another link that’s 30 minutes to an hour and they get to choose, but the default is 30 minutes.

Now the default used to be an hour. And now that I changed it to 30 minutes, most people pick 30. If they have a specific ask, a specific thing for us to discuss, they’ll pick 45 minutes or an hour, and that’s fine. But I’m no longer spending an hour just doing a get to know you call. And I think that makes it a lot easier for me to say yes. And particularly if people are introducing me, if you said, “Hey, I think you should meet this other person,” I never want to say, “Oh, I don’t know, what’s the value of that?” Because I mean, part is like you don’t know until you do it. So, these pieces of technology have absolutely made it easier, both for me to say yes, but also to schedule it because honestly, the back and forth emails trying to find a time, not knowing who’s calling who, that used to annoy me. So, it’s a lot easier just to say. “Let’s just do this. Here’s my link.” And I have to phrase it really nicely. “I use a scheduling link to make it easier to connect with me and to share my availability. Would you mind using it?” You don’t want to be like, “I’m a nail salon. Book a time.” You don’t want to say that to people. But people are like, “Wow, this is great. I wish I could use this for my own business.” And I always show them how.

What do you think is the difference between the digital relationship building and person? What is the advantage that you can never get by meeting someone face to face and how much of an advantage is that?

It’s actually hard to really underscore how much more you can connect with someone in person. I mean, I do think that the online has been helpful. I mean, I had moments where I met someone through Twitter, and after months of following each other and then finally we wanted to meet each other in person, we immediately were hugging. It wasn’t like the Twitter connection didn’t build a relationship. It absolutely did. But if you meet a person and really hit it off and end up having a meal with them, that is going to be so much more memorable for that little bit of time that you invested, it’s going to have a higher impact than if you like their stuff. We think of online almost in this surface level. Now, if you invest and really develop and put some effort into getting to know someone, if people are, let’s say for you that people like sharing your content, and commenting on your stuff, and writing reviews and recommendations and referring people to you that are high quality, and buying your content, and just talking well of you and be a huge ambassador. Well, very quickly, they’re going to rise to a level where you’re going to want to get to know them. And that’s how you get on the radar of an influencer. So, you usually have to start online, but you have to be very thoughtful about it. And what I call a high touch level of effort as opposed to… it’s not just a like, it’s not just a retweet. It has to be more than that and be very thoughtfully done. And this is the difference also between, it’s someone’s birthday or they get a new job on LinkedIn, and people just do the automatic “congrats and your job” or “happy birthday.” If you do a little more, if you messaged them off that platform, if you have another way to reach them, a direct message way to reach them, a text message, phone call, imagine that. That always has a higher impact than just low bar stuff that we do online.

Do you feel like today platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are, in some ways, treated the same way as old time networking meeting where people just get around, they see somebody famous that’s out there, but they don’t really know how to approach them. We feel that same tension in the digital environment. Sometimes it’s scary for us to go to somebody we feel like is well known, we feel like we’re going to be wasting our time, or we don’t know how to start that conversation, or it’s always very awkward. Do you see those parallels, too?

I do see that. And I think one thing they have in common is that you should always start by offering value before you ask for something. And all the things I mentioned earlier, sharing content, writing reviews, being really thoughtful about how you approach somebody, that’s all offers, that’s all giving before you ask. And I think the mistake people make is that they don’t nurture their network. And then they suddenly need one, they’re suddenly out of work. You’ve gotten those messages, someone’s on LinkedIn suddenly reaching out and telling their entire network, “Hey, I’m looking for a job.” And you’re like, I haven’t heard from you in, like, seven years. So, I think of a network as insurance, you don’t buy insurance expecting to use it, it’s quite the opposite. We buy insurance hoping to never use it. And similarly, you develop a professional network that goes both deep and diverse. And if you find yourself needing something, that’s part of the abundance mindset, it’s just a relationship away. And I actually call myself a relationship-based business strategist because I truly believe that every challenge, whether business or in life, can be met through relationships. And that’s part of that same mindset around the idea that it’s really an insurance policy.

And one of your tag lines is stop wasting time networking, start building great relationships. That’s a really powerful statement. Because I think when we hear networking, whether true or not, we always assume there’s a lot of ulterior motives here. This is just how you schmooze to get a job. As opposed to actually building relationships and going through that. That’s a really powerful distinction you make.

Yeah, I do think that networking gets a bad rap. And it’s even been verified, there’s a Harvard study that says people feel that networking makes them feel dirty. And really, the ick factor on networking is about transactional networking, which is very different than relational networking. And so, I’m talking about relational networking, not the time when you just reach out having never really reached out before. And so, you’re asking for something. That’s transactional, and the people who keep track of who gave who to what, that feels icky, too. So, it’s about giving without any expectation of something in return, and knowing that it will come back to you in some way, not maybe that direct person. And so, I think that when you’re thinking about networking, I want to reframe it to be about relationship building. So, another way to describe this is if you become known as the kind of person who gives rides to the airport, you’re going to get a ride when you need one. And the most amazing part is it won’t even have to be from someone who you’ve driven. People will just know, they’ll be like, wow, you’re known, you’re the kind of person who always helps out, I want to help you, even though you haven’t helped me directly. Like, that’s the abundance of being that person who’s always giving, as opposed to keeping score or only reaching out when you need something,

I feel like for a lot of people, the reason that they don’t nurture their relationships, especially those outside of their company, is just because they get too busy. You have lots of stuff to do at work here. You’re there Monday through Friday, you’re doing your work, and then all of a sudden, it’s the weekend, you don’t want to spend time thinking about work stuff. So, you just ignore it, push it off, push it off. So, what are some ideas for people who are in that situation where they enjoy their work, they feel like, I don’t really need a network right now because I don’t need a job. What is the impetus for them to get out there and really find those extra things to do to build relationships outside of the company?

Well, I’m glad that, A, you’re talking about this outside the context of networking events, because while I do focus a lot on that and conferences in particular, there’s so many opportunities to build relationships and to network with people in everyday life, and at a company and people who are related to your company is a great opportunity. So, I think part of it is building a habit. So, with my coaching clients, for the first 90 days of this program, they have homework, where twice a week, they schedule 15 minutes to do these high touch points. So, they want to do to high touch points a week, for three months. By the end of that three months, they no longer really have to schedule it, because now it’s become a habit. They’re in the mode that they look for the reasons to do this. And as soon as they see an opportunity, they just do it. Without that habit, you just sort of note that there’s something you could do, and then you just don’t do it. Because either you just don’t have the skill set, you don’t have the technology, you don’t have the mindset mostly. And so, for instance, you might say, “Oh, wow, I should totally introduce these two people.” But then you don’t do it because you’re not really know how. You’re unsure. You’re nervous about it.

But if you got into the habit of introducing people, well, now when that pops in your radar, you just go “Oh, yeah, I should introduce those two people. Oh, well, then let me go about doing that.” And you reach out to each one of them, get their buy in, and then make the introduction happen. So, I think that’s a good way to start. Another one that I like to give people is to make a list of 20 people from your work history, not necessarily people you work with currently, but people you used to work with, that you always enjoy their company, and that you’d be happy to hear from them. And then reach out to them, make a plan to spend a little bit of effort seeing where they are online, connecting with them, start reaching out a little bit here and there. And not with anything particularly as an outcome, but just that it’s a safe way to start to build that memory muscle, that habit forming around reaching out to people. And you just don’t know, even though these people may not be directly, I don’t know, a client prospect, they may end up being someone who knows somebody who is or they might be able to give you an idea from another industry that then impacts the way you do the work you do. But more than anything, they believe in you, they trust you. Know, like, and trust is what we’re all trying to get to. And if they already know, like, and trust you, why not start there sharing with them what you’re up to, listening to what they’re up to? So, I think those two things would be a good way in if it’s something you’ve been out of the habit of doing.

Those are great. I like the idea. If I think about it, I don’t have to schedule to go to a networking event, like you said, I can just find a friend that I haven’t met with in a while or find somebody else and just meet and then meet somebody after that. It can just keep going on in these one on one relationships. That really does a great job. Let’s talk more about this idea of diversity inclusion. We had Amy Waninger on the show earlier. She was awesome, and really opened my eyes to the idea of diversity starts with your network. When it comes time to bring people into your company and when it comes time to looking around you for advice, you look to the people you know, and if you haven’t intentionally built up people around you who are different than you, then that’s a big problem. It’s hard to solve. And so, my takeaway from her session was this is where you have to start when it comes to that diversity. So, where do you approach that? How do you encourage people to be more inclusive in their networking on the one on one level? Let’s start there.

Well, I just want to say, one, that I agree with Amy. She’s great. And her book is great. And I think that, first, you have to answer, why is it important to have a diverse network? And I think one easy answer that comes to mind is that the most innovative ideas for your business, your industry, for your career, are going to come from the edges of your network. It’s not going to be people who have the exact same schooling as you because they think the same way you do. So, the innovative ideas come from people who have a different experience level, a different upbringing, a different career trajectory, different education. So, it’s very powerful. And if you’re the person in your industry who’s willing and able to make those connections across multiple sectors, across different industries, that’s actually an advantage. That is a very key advantage today that a lot of people just put their head down and do their work. Now, the mistake people make, to get to your point around one on one connections, is that they’ll travel to a conference. And there was a study by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events that said that I think it was 73% or 75% of participants say that networking is a top driver for why they chose to attend an event, which makes sense that three out of four people networking is why they’re going.

But then you also hear anecdotally all the time that people feel like, wow, I didn’t really meet the right people. I went there and I don’t know if it was worth it. And that disconnect is what I said earlier about that Harvard study about how people feel around networking. And so, part of it is that you have to really set some intentions and have some practices. One mistake people make is that if they do go and talk to someone who is different than them, which they’re like, I heard on this podcast that I should go do that. The first thing they do is they call out difference. And they do it in a way by asking a curious question. Now, here’s an innocuous example. It’s like, wow, you’re tall, how tall are you? If you’re over 12 years old, you probably shouldn’t be saying that. Yeah, we’ve all done it. But hopefully not recently. And we know not to do that. But yet, you can imagine how a person who’s super tall or super short is going to get asked that question all the time. The same thing can be true for skin color, accents, hair texture, all these things. The question where are you from is actually a really loaded question, particularly today’s cultural climate.

And so, by pointing out these differences, it makes people think, wow, maybe I don’t really fit here, maybe I don’t belong, and it makes them feel othered, which is the opposite of being welcomed. Also on a very simple level, you’re not very memorable if you say the thing that everyone always says to them. So, I met someone the other day, whose last name is Wee, then I went, “I’m sorry, how do you spell that?” He told me. I went, “Okay.” And I just kept going. And I could just imagine in my head how many people feel the need to comment on that. I also met a Ben Franklin, and like, you just have to go, “Okay,” and eventually, I got to know Ben Franklin, and have a conversation about how he ended up with his name. But if you ask that question right away, it’s really off putting, and we all have things about ourselves, depending on the situation, that might feel a little more stand out in ways from the normal crowd in the room, like demographically an outlier. Some of us that happens all the time. And for some of us, we occasionally find ourselves in the space where we aren’t like everyone else, or we don’t feel like everyone else. And so, why would we want to put that on other people? And this is what I call the downside to being a unicorn. You think it’s all rainbows and sunny skies, but it’s hard.

“Oh, you got that horn on your head.”

Yeah, it’s like, “Wow, can I touch that? A unicorn. I’ve never met a unicorn. Hey, what’s it like to…?” And I’m an out trans guy. So, on a personal level, that’s how I think of it. And coming out in large groups always has felt better for me, because people are less likely to give me that knee jerk response and then ask the curious question. And if they do in a one on one setting, I just always say, hey, that’s why Google exists. You go ask Google. Because they’re not really asking about me. They’re treating it like, oh, I’ve never met someone like that, which there’s a point in a relationship when you and I are trading grandma recipes, and then all is fair game, I’m willing to share about me, then you’re willing to share about you, that’s cool. But in the first 3, 4, 5, 20 minutes, probably want to hold off on that. And that is a key, I think, to building a more diverse network is not messing up that moment and causing people to feel like, “Well, gee, that person did not make me feel like I belonged here, like I was welcomed.”

That’s really good stuff. Very powerful. Let’s give somebody some advice. Everyone’s got a conference they’re headed up to. Somebody’s going to say, I’m an introvert, I don’t like meeting people, I don’t want to walk up to somebody I don’t know. What’s just some really simple advice you can give to them to help them out?

Well, part of it is that it’s about preparation. So introverts, you should rejoice because when I’m about to tell you allows you to do a bunch of work ahead of time, and then spend an hour at an event and leave feeling like you’ve accomplished your goals. I don’t know how to spend only an hour. I am an outgoing extrovert. So, I stay to the end and I know how to stack every kind of chair there is because I don’t know how to leave. If there are people there, I’m going to stay. But it’s really about preparation. Why this event in particular? Who you’re trying to meet? What information you’re hoping to learn? What inspiration you’re looking for? What can you offer this space? And then actually writing your draft of your follow-up message, your follow-up email, before you go to the event. Now, you’re not hitting send. You haven’t met anyone yet. But you’re really getting clear in your head about what your intentions are. And you’ve drafted this message, which just makes you so much more sure of who you are and what you’re going to bring into this space.

And then you spend an hour being really clear about making an effort. So, if you’re super shy, you might only try to meet one or two people, reconnect with one or two people. If you’re more outgoing, maybe it’s three people. It really depends on how comfortable you are around just socializing. But then the other part of this is that you have a plan for following up. You’ve scheduled time within a couple days to spend an hour, get your draft, track your business cards, I like to turn the corner down the ones that are higher priority, and then you’re more likely to follow through. And if you do that as a habit, you can go to fewer events, and have a higher impact from those events. So, you don’t have to go to everything. I actually want you not to go to everything. So, to the experts who are listening, going to six things a week is not a better plan than going to two and doing really, really strategic selection of the event. And then careful follow-up and nurturing people in that long-term way. That’s the difference between collecting business cards that you just put in a box in your desk, and then eventually in a drawer, and then eventually recycle, and then go collect more business cards. That’s the cycle that I want people to break. That’s the difference between that and actually developing relationships.

We talk about this all the time on the show. It’s the human element that we need to really get back to, drop all these more mechanical things that we do, and get back to being great humans and just trading business cards, sending the email response and hoping that somebody responds is more of a mechanical way to do it. But if you’re really looking to connect with somebody, build that relationship, and be curious about their life and what’s going on with them and what you can learn from them, then that’s a beautiful thing as it comes back to. So, I love that. Robbie, you’ve got a lot to say. Everyone should check out your book. So, tell us about the book first, “Croissants Vs Bagels“. I’m sure you’ve said it 1000 times. But what’s the difference?

Well, I want to explain this because people are always like, why is your book called “Croissants Vs Bagels: Strategic, Effective, and Inclusive Networking at Conferences“? So, picture a networking event, people are standing in those tight clusters that are impossible to break into, those shoulder to shoulder huddles, they’re the bagels. And if one person in that circle opens their body language and make space for others to join, that’s the croissant. And so, when you’re in that space and you’re trying to figure out where do I go, don’t go stand in the corner, don’t stand on the side of the room as a wallflower. Get into the space and look for those natural openings, look for those croissants. Once you get into one of those bagels, make sure your own body language is shifted to be open and inviting other people to join you. Because actually the easiest, most graceful exit is when you’re in a group. When you’re in three or four people, you just say, “Hey, I’ve got to go,” and you just walk off. It’s harder to do that with two people. So, if you have an open body language, other people will flow in and out of your conversation. And it’ll be nice and you’ll meet more people. So, that’s the book. It’s available at and there’s a bunch of bonus content there as well.

Yeah, lots of good stuff. And then you also have your podcast. Tell us about that.

Thank you. The podcast, gee, are you guys podcast listeners? So, the podcast is called On the Schmooze, is the site and it has been around over three years. And I’ve interviewed talented professionals who’ve achieved a level of success in their field or industry. And I ask them questions about leadership and networking to gauge how do they do this because no one achieves success on their own, so clearly, they’ve built a network around themselves.

Robbie, this has been a lot of fun. I really am taking a lot away personally from this. A lot of the tips you gave about being intentional, thinking about it as relationship building instead of networking is really a good reminder and a good way to move forward in the future of work. So, thanks a lot for coming on the show.

You’re welcome. I have a bonus for your listeners that I’d like to add which is 10 tips for conference connections. It’s a little three page download that you can pull up in your phone and scan before heading into an event. And it’s available at

Fantastic. Thanks so much, Robbie. Have a great day.


Robbie Samuels is a keynote speaker, TEDx speaker, and relationship-based business strategist who has been recognized as a “networking expert” by Inc., Harvard Business Review Ascend, and Lifehacker. He helps associations inspire life-long membership by creating welcoming and inclusive first-timer experiences.

He is the author of the best-selling business book Croissants vs. Bagels: Strategic, Effective, and Inclusive Networking at Conferences and has been profiled in the Harvard Business ReviewForbes, and Fast Company. His clients include associations, women’s leadership summits, and corporations including Marriott, AmeriCorps, Hostelling International, and General Assembly.

He has been featured in several books including Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It by Dorie Clark and The Connector’s Advantage: 7 Mindsets to Grow Your Influence and Impact by Michelle Tillis Lederman. He has guest lectured at many leading educational institutions including Harvard University, Brown University, Cornell University, and Northeastern University.

Robbie is the host of On the Schmooze podcast which features his networking strategies and talented professionals sharing untold stories of leadership and networking.

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