Professional and personal relationships are not mutually exclusive. You wouldn’t keep people around if you didn’t know, like or trust them and you’d be in a lot of trouble if you only spoke to your partner once a month to report on how the previous month had progressed. The only difference is that in a professional relationships there is a layer of economic value that needs to be delivered.
The fact that professional relationships require that you create economic value does not excuse the baseline for normal relationship behaviours. Once you start working with a client you still need them to know, like and trust you.
It’s rewarding to engage
Some of the most rewarding relationships you can experience are professional. Connecting with the client team. Taking the lead. Gaining a deep understanding of the business. Putting a plan in place and executing to a level beyond expectations is incredibly gratifying. This win can only be fully experienced and shared in if you have built that relationship. The same can be said for people within your own company.
So what’s the problem here?
However, there is a fundamental problem in the way most people see professional relationships. Many professional relationships are strictly transactional. You pay the bills, we perform the work and that’s it. To believe that is the best practice is to dismiss the merits of the human connection. The two streams are not mutually exclusive and there are serious benefits to understanding this overlap.
Many of your clients want a personal relationship. They hired you, and now you are an extension of their team. They want to talk to you. They want to be advised. They want to hear your stories, and they want to tell you theirs. If they could do this all themselves then they would. But they can’t which is why you exist in their ecosystem. You bring big picture economic value to their mission. But it’s not enough to just do the work, you also need to effectively communicate, be trusted, and be liked.
This can seem intimidating to do when some clients seem all business. Like they don’t have time or don’t want to talk to you. This can make it hard to feel comfortable initiating and maintaining a personal relationship. However, the idea that there is no overlap between professional and personal relationships is to believe that these relationships are mutually exclusive. Despite how difficult it may seem, trying to have both is better than having either by itself.
A simple realisation to change the game
When you realise that your clients also want a professional relationship that spans into personal everything becomes a lot easier. They want someone with the business acumen and situational knowledge to help guide them around corners. They want to work with someone who will prevent them from being harmed, and who will help them capitalise on growth opportunities. This person is going to care enough about them that they are always thinking about what comes next even when they aren’t. When you have this level of trust otherwise large problems seem to fade away into nothingness, becoming a lot easier to tackle when you and your clients are on the same team.
How to achieve the holy grail?
Above all, this mix of worlds can be achieved simply by taking a genuine care and interest in your client and their world. If that level of care is missing, then there would be no reason to be someone worth doing business with, someone your clients prefer above all others.
In a world that is moving increasingly towards automation the one advantage we still have is the human connection. The ability to look around corners for our clients, advise of any peril and sail the ship through the storm.
If you only call clients to talk when something is wrong or you need something then you won’t be memorable or enjoyable to work with. You want to be the extension of their team, someone who has the ability and courage to call and be honest when things haven’t gone great, become a trusted advisor, and earn the right to celebrate the wins. If they trust you, like you and can see results then you can’t be beaten.
Human after all
Looking at relationships through this lens will make your role a lot more fun and rewarding. Your clients will appreciate the approach because without the personal connection you are only providing a service, work that can be done anywhere by anyone. Pick up the phone, ask questions and continually add value.