Use music to build and improve your relationships
29 October, 2021 - 7 min read
Use music to build and improve your relationships
and get some new jams along the way
When I was just starting out in my professional career, I worked inside sales at a tech start-up. Between the cold calls selling an immigration software platform, I met a friend that not only fostered a long friendship, but found a new trick at getting to know people, and finding new music along the way.
It was a cold and dreary Chicago winter day, the exact timing I'm unsure of, but just knowing it was winter I think it's easy to say it was quite gray outside.
Still glassy-eyed working at a company in River North, I met who's now a good friend of mine and recent graduate of law school, Charlie. We were in the same class of incoming sales reps at the company and connected quickly over basketball, debating politics and a shared appreciation of hip-hop.
Somewhere along the first few weeks of knowing another, we decided to swap music. Me having some underground music I wanted to trade, and him the same. Blu and Exile, Eric Sermon and some real early Kanye were some that stand out.
Little did I know this instance would have sparked something that I now use to jump-start getting a team to know one another, or me a colleague.
Dude I love the hook on this track
Charlie and I were certainly already on our way to be fast tracked friends with many shared interests. But what got us to understand that more, and faster, was that we had a reason to connect and chat.
We started going back and forth about tracks, lines, beats, artists-- and not only did our individual appreciation grow, but so did our repertoire.
The cool thing about music, is when you first find a track that you like, it's like magic. It can be years since you've heard it, but when you do you're instantly launched back to that time, almost able to taste the air that day you first heard it.
Jump forward a few years and I'm starting out at my first consulting gig. It's a new company, new industry and frankly a hard adjustment. Everyone is used to the faster deadlines, the forced creativity you need to conjure a solution in short order, or how to oscillate between client talk and project collaboration.
Then there's the biggest part about consulting, that at this point goes unnoticed by me, being able to get to know many people fast, and jump right into producing in a new environment. Spending many, many, hours working with some of my new colleagues, sometimes traveling long stretches to the client's offices, I started asking what music they were into.
no really, what do you like
Most people, I've found, when you ask them to choose a song, artist or album to put on, tend to get a bit shy. I think it has something to do with how much enjoyment we get out of listening, how most of the time now we listen alone, and worrying about baring that part of your personality outside to someone else. It can be quite intimidating.
But here's the thing, if you can become comfortable enough to share with someone what music you like, and if you can reciprocate that without judgment but honest listening, you'll learn more about that person, practice listening, and just might hear something you now love too.
So here's what I like to do to get to know people, and connect. It has lead to everything from me finding Leonard Bernstein's what is jazz, to Gary Clark Jr., The Midnight, Glass Animals and even Chance The Rapper.
tips for sharing and listening
Ask politely, practice being kind.
There's a subtle bit of baring one's soul in sharing music, so be overly nice and practice that. It's a good skill in life, and know that how someone is outwardly acting is how they are inside. They may be very shy, and they may have never even told anyone they dig this or that track / artist.
Here's a few ways to break the ice.
What song are you really into right now?
Got an artist that always puts you in a good mood?
I'm looking for something new out of my norm, got any suggestions?
When someone gives you a track or artist, actually give it a listen. Inject it into your normal routine, but don't have it be while you're doing something that you'll be actively giving your attention. Which, if you're listening in the car, but ruminating on any of life's numerous other demands, try to pull yourself out of that for a moment.
Because taking a moment to share in music with someone else, even if you're doing it asynchronously, is a moment to be able to pause and reflect.
comment back genuinely
Even if you don't like it, because that's going to happen sometimes too, not everything is sunshine and breakdances. Find something you can enjoy about it, and lead with that when you next see that person.
Bring it up to them during the dead air before the zoom meeting gets going, at the end of the call, or just in a slack message when you're sitting down to have a cup of coffee and dig into the day.
More often than not, you're going to get some music that's going to delight you. Don't be afraid to let your enthusiasm out-- enthusiasm is infectious!
If you like the song, open up a bit and be yourself ( you should be doing this either way, I know it's hard ). Before you know it, you'll be immersed in a conversation and dear reader, my work here is done.
tips for teams
I'll often share music with my team in our slack channels. Frequently in consulting we have a channel dedicated to the project, so for many of my corporate or product folks, you'll have something similar for your departments.
Post some tracks in there from time to time. No need to overwhelm it, but just put something you're really digging, and finding yourself dancing on the inside when it plays. Even though I'm an audiophile, I still get nervous doing this from time to time, but dive in!
See points above for how to engage back with your team and encourage others to dive into it.
Because I'm telling you, the closest, most effective teams I've worked with, all shared music back and forth to connect.
And who knows, maybe you'll make a few friends that'll last long after you leave your industry for another.
As a bonus, I'll leave you some music I'm feeling these days below.
p.s. like all things that I think about, and will by proxy be posting here, this is also a great guideline for life outside of work too. It's a lot easier to find with someone else a shared song, artist or new genre, than it is to dedicate the time needed to binge a show.
And, to me, nothing quite elevates your mood like a song. Whenever I'm having a particular bought of feeling down, I prescribe myself a dose of James Brown every morning and sure enough, it works every time.