Being Friendly Is Not Friendship

1155747219This Struming was inspired by my friend Paul Gumbinner’s recent post, Your Clients Are Not Your Friends. Wise insights from a wise man. Certainly, the client-agency relationship has many layers of interpersonal relationships within an agency and with various people at your clients.

Beyond the agency-client relationship, there are also relationships with co-workers, with upper management and relationships with those who report to you. Paul’s article was specific to the ad business, an industry I once called my own and like Paul, I too have perspective on interpersonal relationships in business.

My headline is simply:  Being friendly is not friendship

Once you’ve been in business for a while (in my case “a while” is 45 years) you have many people with whom you’ve had interactions. I believe there are 4 tiers of relationships in business (and life too):

1. People you don’t like—This is tough, but there’s a reality that there are just people who you really just don’t like. There may (or may not) be good reasons for your dislike. Doesn’t matter. It is very difficult however if this person is your client. My advice here is try REALLY REALLY hard to like something about that person and focus on that. If you send out vibes of disdain, even subtle eye rolls, or clipped response, I guarantee it will come back to bite you in the ass.

2. Pleasant people—You get along well with them; your interactions aren’t difficult but there’s no real connection other than getting something done. I suspect the majority of relationships fall into this tier

3. Friendly relationships—These are tricky because you genuinely feel a degree of friendship with the other person. But that friendship is largely built on the moment where you have close interactions for a period of time but then circumstances change and you “lose touch”

4. True friendship How many true friends does a person really have? People who you would do anything to help, people who you prioritize seeing and spending time. 5, 10, 20? Probably no more and that’s OK. In my career I had a unique self imposed challenge in my business life years ago when I was President/CEO of 2 agencies. I made a conscious decision to be just a little removed from the employees of the agencies. I thought that if I became too friendly with people who reported to me it would made business more difficult. I may have been wrong, but nonetheless, I rarely moved those relationships beyond a business friendship, at least during those years.

The good news is that 20 years removed from running a company (other than Strum Consulting) I am not hamstrung but any self-imposed barrier. And in my current practice (and again given that I’ve been around a while) I choose to have no relationships with people I don’t like. Why would I?

I am blessed with several true friendships—and they cut across the spectrum of my life from childhood to high school to college and my business relationships. People who I am proud to call my friend. People I admire. And many of them started as a business relationship. One group is my “forum” from an organization called YPO that I had been a member of. Most of us in that group have long since left YPO but our friendship remains.

But in any case, true friendship is hard to find, and even harder to maintain. It takes hard work. And as one ages, friendships are critically important. I hope I can maintain mine. Just reflecting on their them helps bring their importance to light.

You gotta have friends.

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