Does Friendship Belong in Business?

A man with whom I was lunching told me about a thorny situation in which he found himself. A couple he had known socially approached him to broker a business they wanted to sell. He eagerly took on the assignment, but found that nothing satisfied his friends-turned-clients. They were critical of his marketing techniques, impatient about the lack of a quick sale. Yet this man insisted on seeing it through. “After all,” he rationalized, “friendship is friendship and business is business.”

Trust, consideration and open communication – the basis of a friendly relationship – were treated as unimportant once the relationship shifted to a business deal. When the clients decided to cancel the brokerage arrangement, he lost both the sale and the friendship.

What many people fail to realize is that good business relationships require the same attention as personal ones do. The idea that we can that we can treat others shabbily in a business setting is as outdated as a spittoon.

Anyone paying attention can find evidence that the friendship factor is a powerful business tool that’s used all the time.

A magazine editor admitted that, all things being equal, she was inclined to give a plum assignment to a writer that she knew personally and liked. “It’s easier to work with someone that has a sense of what I’m looking for,” she says, and adds, “I also like the idea of helping a friend have more success.”

It’s a natural phenomenon that we like to do business with people we like and being genuinely likable can produce tangible results in our business. Showing kindness and consideration to others is the basis of the friendship factor and one worth cultivating.

We can learn a lot about this power by being conscious of things we respond to positively or negatively when we’re being a consumer. For instance, I sometimes shop at a large supermarket where the checkers are longtime employees and are, therefore, all familiar to me. Julie is so extraordinarily pleasant that I find myself waiting in a long line just for the experience of having a little chat with her. Not only does she greet me by name, she remembers our previous conversations and always seems thrilled to see me. (Actually, I’ve noticed that she always seems thrilled to see whomever is in her line.)

Then there’s Judy, a checker so grumpy that I have permanently boycotted her counter. Judy likes to give unsolicited advice, perhaps criticizing a purchase a customer is making or showing disapproval in some way. Her interpersonal skills are sadly lacking and I go out of my way to avoid her. I suspect I’m not the only one.

The friendship factor doesn’t just exist between you and your customers or clients, of course. There are ample opportunities to build relationships that can help expand your business by befriending other self-bossers and sharing information, referrals and ideas with them. What else would explain the popularity of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter?

You can also polish your networking skills, thereby expanding your personal circle of connections. Not surprisingly, the most successful networkers also have a high capacity for friendship.

As more people decide to create businesses that really serve others, the friendship factor will take on even greater importance. Whether it’s joining forces with an entrepreneurial friend to complete a joint project or asking customers for referrals, the successful entrepreneur will demonstrate that friendship and business are wonderfully compatible. It also adds pleasure and satisfaction to the most ordinary encounters with others when the bond of mutual caring is present. Does your business deserve any less?