Don’t Mix Friendship and Business BY SOULAIMA GOURANI ON MARCH 22, 2012
Those who know you best are the ones who help you the least. Why is it that the mixing of friendship and business almost always fails? When I give lectures on networking, I ask the audience this question: “Would you recommend a close friend or family member for a job in the company where you are employed?” Out of 10 people, 9 answer no. They argue that their relationship with the friend or family member is too close and/or that they have had a pretty bad experience doing so. My studies show that those who know you best are the ones who help you the
least (when it comes to contacts and contracts). Everybody I ask has a story about how they should not have mixed business and friendship, and when we are already aware of the problems of mixing friendship and business, why do we keep on making the same mistake over and over? We mix friendship and business in the belief that our friendship can withstand the dual role such a relationship entails. I have been disappointed, and each time, I hope that I have learned from it. Friendship and business cannot and should not be mixed. However, if it cannot be avoided, it is necessary to follow some very specific rules.
Be Personal, Not Private Is it really possible to establish some clearly defined boundaries? When are you friends? Are we business friends? What are we? We live in a so-called network society, and here arises a dilemma: at a time when networking and relationship building is the single most important factor in determining whether you achieve the results you want, how do you keep friendship and career separate? It may seem quite contradictory that we, on one hand, must be super good at establishing and maintaining relationships, while we, on the other hand, have to stay far away from having friends in the business world. A good rule of thumb—and a mantra I live by—is to be personal, not private. Private is something you are with your friends. It may seem like a fine line having to be personal, but not private because I actually believe that it is important “to give something of yourself” when you are with partners, customers, etc. When you give something of yourself, trust is created between two people. A great part of our market value lies in the trust that we create in our relationships, and here, the personal part is an important factor. I will gladly tell an anecdote about my children or a great experience, and I do not mind sharing joys and worries every now and then, but I do not share more-intimate information with my business connections. If that happens, then we have become private friends (and that does happen), and then it is necessary to take some precautions with regard to the professional relationship.
Your Business Life and Private Life Are Not Synonymous It comes as a surprise to many that one’s business life and personal life are not two sides of the same coin. They need to be kept separate. The dividing lines are extremely thin and easily exceeded. In these times where we write to each other via text messages, e-mails, and Facebook, our tolerance levels have changed; but they still give rise to conflicts and frustrations. I am “friends” with many of my business partners on social media; and here we can read each other’s updates about everyday experiences and expressions of thoughts and beliefs, as well as see pictures of the kids. So where do you draw the line when you are business partners? We know more about each other than ever before, and it might feel awkward to send a payment reminder to a business connection when you have just viewed photos from his latest vacation in Tuscany on Facebook. Many people—especially you who have something to sell—can probably recognize that scenario. We can also experience such issues in local neighborhoods where everybody knows each other, does business with each other, and has children in the same kindergartens and schools. My father-in-law is a bricklayer, and he has a rule that he does not work for people living on the same street as he does. He could choose to do it because he is an experienced and skilled bricklayer, but he knows from experience that doing so could give him a lot of trouble as people might have difficulty knowing where to draw the line between neighbors helping one another and real business. Good networkers who know many people and whom other people like often find themselves in that trap because what they think of as “network” other people might perceive as friends or, at least, very good acquaintances who should not earn from one another. This can result in many unfortunate situations that can be avoided if your communication is clear, for example, when you have to file a complaint, send a payment reminder, etc. Friends can be a little thin-skinned and think that special rules apply to them. It is okay that you become friends with a customer, a client, or a business partner. But you should not communicate to both “persons” at the same time.
Keep Things Separate It is not difficult to be personal and not private with the people you meet on your journey through the business world, but what do you do in a situation where you have to do business with a friend? In such a situation, it is necessary to keep things separate. You need to wear two hats in your relationship. One example of this could be how you write a work-related e-mail to someone who is also your friend. In a work-related e-mail, it is not necessary to both remind the recipient about an unpaid invoice and confirm your dinner appointment next Saturday. This should be done in two different e-mails. If your working relationship becomes very close, it might be a good idea to agree not to discuss business when you are together outside work.
The Magic Circles There are roughly six circlesâ€”all of which have their own standards for what you can do and sayâ€”that you should think about when you mix friendship and business:
Alone: When you are all alone, there are things you can allow yourself to do only when you are all alone. Family: There is certain behavior that you can allow yourself only when you are together with close relatives. Friends: There is behavior that is acceptable only when you are in the company of your friends. Job: There is behavior that is acceptable only when you are with your colleagues. Business: There is behavior that is acceptable only when you are with your business associates. Acquaintances: There is behavior that is acceptable only when you are with acquaintances or people you have just only met. What Is Our Status, Really? You should always think about the status of your relationships. Are we friends? Are we just business associates? How close is our relationship? Where are the potential conflicts of interest? Create an overview and use it to identify and avoid the potential conflicts.
Do you have experiences with mixing business and friendships? Let me hear your story . . .