Sunday, February 22, 2015

Personal Business

Business is very personal. In slicing up our time, a big chunk gets allocated to the answer to the question, 'what do you do?'. I have made some of my closest friends through work. Your colleagues and clients become a significant part of your life. There are those who try to establish Chinese walls between work and play. I think I tried that for an afternoon once. Those building teams know the importance of establish rapport. 

I once 'met' someone by having to resolve a mini-crisis over the phone where I wasn't able to give the answer the person wanted. Although we were on the same side, we had different roles, different motivations and different information. This person did not like me. It was not just business. Subsequent emails and interactions were very formal. We later met in a more relaxed setting and after a few drinks and the discovery of common interests, Trev retired a mini role as Voldemort. Subsequent interactions were pleasant and any issues were resolved by friends. We treat friends differently.

The same is true with clients. Over email, someone can seem rude and aggressive. The same person over a coffee can be charming. This is why those who are successful in business aren't necessarily the ones with the best academic qualifications. People skills matter a lot. As in friendships and relationships, a fantastic business person will be great at uncomfortable conversations. Someone who has earned the benefit of doubt from people who trust them can cut through layers of friction caused by distrust. Those who can find common interest and empathise with clients needs are priceless. We moan about business being about who you know. This can be a barrier to entry and a network can be inherited in the same way as wealth. But you can get to know people and the best way to do that is to show interest in them. These business skills are distinctly personal.

Our desire to separate business and friendships also leads to another odd conclusion. In business, people consciously and carefully build relationships. They make sure they schedule interactions. They review how often they have seen people. They may keep a record of client meetings and ensure they meet them at least once a year and call them every three months or so. They may write to them even more regularly to make sure they are in mind. This ensures that when they are needed, the fact that they can help will be an instant mental trigger. All very considered. Then when it comes to family and friendships, it often just gets left up to chance. We want it to be 'natural' and unforced. Order feels false.

Unfortunately it is very natural for things that aren't regularly triggered to fade from the front of our minds. This doesn't mean they aren't important to us. We just aren't computers. We need to help ourselves out a little. Perhaps if business can benefit from being personal, being personal can benefit from being a little bit more business like.
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