3 Tips In Building Sustainable Relationships: Leo Tolstoy


Roshan Thiran


3 min read

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Recently, I’ve been reflecting on relationships: how can we best build and nurture connections in our professional network as well as our personal lives?

As someone fortunate enough to have been able to learn from some of the best leaders in the business throughout my career, I found a lot of great advice and ideas coming to mind – but none of them really satisfied me: the question still niggled away at my mind.

The Three Questions

After some time, I rediscovered an old story written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy that I hadn’t read in years, and was glad to see that the tales of old still carry profound nuggets of wisdom that remain relevant today.

Tolstoy’s Three Questions tells the story of a king who wanted to know the answers to three specific questions. If he could answer them sufficiently, he was sure he would never fail at anything ever again. The three questions were:

  1. When is the right time to start anything?
  2. Who is the most important person to listen to?
  3. What is the most important thing to do?

The king offered a great reward to anyone in his kingdom who could sufficiently answer the questions. But after several attempts from people, no one could satisfy the king. In the end, he decided to visit a hermit, renowned for his wisdom, in the hopes of finding the answers to his three questions.

Of course, Tolstoy unravels the story far better than I could. So I’ll leave it to you to read his eloquent narrative.

In the end, the king gets the following answers from the wise hermit:

  1. When is the right time to start anything?
    “Remember that there is only one time that is important – now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”
  2. Who is the most important person to listen to?
    “The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else.”
  3. What is the most important thing to do?
    “The most important affair is to do him good because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

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Its significance in relationship-building

Tolstoy’s Three Questions offers some profound insights into how we can best build and nurture our relationships.

How often do we find ourselves going through the motions in our interactions? When others talk to us, do we hear to listen and understand? Are we fully present to others for its own sake? Or, do we give just enough to show the bare level of engagement, while ruminating about what’s next on the day’s schedule, or whether it’s time for lunch?

After reading Tolstoy’s story, it occurred to me that the best communicators I’ve come across are those who make you feel as though you’re the only person in the room. They give people their full attention and they make sure to be completely present to the interaction, for however long it lasts. When communicating with others, it’s a two-way process and they are always sincere and authentic when connecting with people.

So, how can we best build and nurture our relationships?

  • Recognise that now is the only time you have to do anything, and therefore it is always the best time.
  • Whoever you’re with, give them your complete and undivided attention.
  • Be aware that the best thing we can do for anyone is to give of yourself within your means whatever the other person may need. It could be something as simple as a few minutes of your time, or perhaps they could use your help in some way.

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Concluding thoughts

Three Questions, for me, offers a key central message to be fully engaged in what we’re doing. It sounds so simple and obvious – but how many of us can truly say we manage to be completely present in all of our interactions? This is the key to maintaining strong relationships and a trait that can no doubt bring an abundance of benefits and opportunities for ourselves and others, if we are able to cultivate genuine connections.

Article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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