EVERYONE TALKS ABOUT THE power of partnership, but true relationship-building doesn't happen in a vacuum. In good times?and especially in bad ones?building rela-tionships is vital. It's about give and take, and often, the give is more important than the take. Not worth it? You're wrong: Only by building strong ties will you and your partners celebrate in the winners' circle, while your competitors kick dirt on the sidelines.

"When companies face tough times or issues, having a strong relationship with the other party involved will help provide a better solution for both parties," explains Dale Connor, managing director of Nashville, Tenn.-based Actus Lend Lease, a public/private developer of military housing and mixed-use projects. "Often, the parties bring diff erent strengths to the table, and each can build on the ideas of the other. It is in these times that working together will help ensure the best possible outcome."

The upside, he says, comes from understanding and aligning goals, risks, and oppor-tunities. "Really understanding what the other wants to receive from the relationship and what will ultimately make them successful is key," he explains. "If you truly understand the other party and can support each other's goals you will have a win/win situation."

GO PAST THE ROLODEX

So how do you create such relationships with municipalities, customers, suppliers, ven-dors, and capital partners alike? First, go beyond a simple business-card exchange at net-working events. That's a great way to build contacts and leads, but it's not as valuable as relationship-building. "Networking has less depth," Connor says. "It's more casual."

To build a better business relationship, Marilyn Puder-York, a New York City-basedexecutive coach, says you've got to focus on the other person. "Ask yourself, 'What's the incentive for the other person to build a relationship with me?'" she says. "Knowing what you can offer in exchange for their time is critical." And if you can't think of a good reason for them to spend time with you, it's probably best not to ask.

THINK LONG-TERM

Good relationships are built over time, not over a cocktail. "You can't wait until times are tough to build relationships," cautions Andy Isakson, founder of Isakson- Barnhart Properties, a housing and commercial development and property management firm in Norcross, Ga. Instead, invest in relationship-building continually whether business is good or bad, and the resulting power of your partnerships will afford you the opportunity to shop on the quality and service of your relationships.

Consider lenders. "Service is really more valuable than the money you may beat out of a deal by bidding," Isakson explains. "As a borrower, you are going to give your good deals to the lender that helped you with the tough deal. "Everybody has to make money, and I want my bank to be successful, too, because I know one day I'm going to need them, like today. And both the borrower and the lender are more productive when relationship-lending than doing one-off deals."

FIND COMMON GROUND

At multifamily and single-family housing developer The Green Co. in Newton, Mass., president Dan Green has made relationship-building and relationship maintenance a priority. Senior managers, including Green, sit on boards or hold prominent positions within their hometown communities. "These positions help create trust with government agencies and activists as they realize we understand and support many of the same issues they do," he explains. "We further build trust by actively listening to their concerns and responding to them not always by saying yes, but when saying no, trying to fi nd alternate ways to help benefit them, too."

Establishing relationships makes good business sense, Green concludes. "Good relationships lead to good reputations, and good reputations enhance rather than