The ROI of Business Friendships

Karen Salmansohn publishes a “Be Happy Dammit Tips” Newsletter. She quotes some fascinating statistics about the value of business friendships. For example:

– People with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work.

– Close friendships at work boost employee satisfaction by nearly 50%.

– People with at least three close friends at work are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied their job – and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives.

– Employees who are good friends with their bosses are more than twice as likely to be happy with their work.

The relevance of friendship is not new to the world of professional services. David Maister writes about friendship in his article titled Young Professionals: Cultivate the Habits of Friendship . He asserts, “The way most clients choose among professionals is essentially identical to the way people choose their friends. At the point of selecting a professional to work with, clients go with providers who can:

(a) make them feel at ease;

(b) make them feel comfortable sharing their fears and concerns;

(c) can be trusted to look after them as well as their transaction and (d) are dependably on their side.”

It seems logical to infer that clients who view you, their business advisor, as a friend are at least doubly more likely to be engaged in the work you do and be satisfied with the results you produce.

Take stock: how many clients can you call “friend”?

A Country Music Star as a Trusted Advisor?

I saw Vince Gill in concert. First time. I was pretty sure I’d enjoy the music, but I had no idea I’d walk away having learned something from a country music celeb about being a Trusted Advisor.

The concert was magical. Sure, the music was good (if you like country, and I will confess I do). Vince is talented, as is his entourage. But he created something with his band and his audience that turned a good concert into an extraordinary experience of community and connectedness. How? By how he was being: humble, self-deprecating, intimate, vulnerable, and totally transparent.

There were several bands listed on the playbill that night, presumably warm-ups for the Big Guy. At curtain time, a lone man appeared on stage, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, and simply started playing guitar and singing.

I kept looking at the program, trying to figure out who he was. I also wondered why this guy was playing a song I recognized as Vince’s when the star himself would be on stage in an hour or so. Turned out it was Vince. All by his lonesome. No fanfare, no glitz – just showed up and started doing what he does best.

At one point he traded his guitar (for which he is known) for a fiddle. I don’t remember the song as much as I remember what he said as soon as it ended: “Boy, am I glad that’s over!” Everyone laughed, and he shared with us how he is a novice with the fiddle and always nervous about playing it on stage – especially in the company of one of his band-members who is very accomplished with the instrument. He told us that he hates how, due to some recent weight gain, it gives him a triple-chin.

Later, he introduced a song he wrote after his father’s death with a story about his father. He knows how to weave a good story, so that made a difference. But what really drew us in was the authentic and loving way he shared about the trials and tribulations of their relationship. We could all relate. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end of the song.

I will remember this concert for years to come. Why? Because this country music expert created something magical for me and several thousand of my closest friends because of how he was being. And I, and you, and every other expert in the corporate world have available to us the ability to have the same kind of impact.

Forget about your decades of experience and advanced degrees – just for a moment. Put aside your To Do list. What possibilities are you going to create for your clients today out of how you are being?



Are You a Competent Jerk or a Lovable Fool?

Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo wrote in “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks” in the Harvard Business Review (June 2005) about how people choose who they work with.

“In most cases, people choose their work partners according to two criteria. One is competence at the job … the other is likability.”

Arrayed on a two-by-two competency vs. likeability matrix, everyone prefers to affiliate with the lovable star–no one with the incompetent jerk. No surprise there.

But what happens when we are forced to choose from the last two quadrants–lovable fool and competent jerk? Place your bets, now.

Based on data from four diverse organizations and over 10,000 work relationships, Casciaro and Lobo discovered (drum roll….) —

Yep, you guessed it. We prefer the lovable fool – even though we may not readily admit it.

We say out loud that we prefer skills and expertise (it sounds unprofessional and illogical not to) and that being “nice” is a nice “bonus.” But in practice, their study showed that your personal feelings about your colleague play a more important role in forming work relationships than do your evaluations of their competence.

“In fact, feelings worked as a gating factor: If someone is strongly disliked, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people don’t want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer.”

Feelings trump rational thought. Again.

Implication: our clients would rather we be lovable fools than competent jerks. Which means we’d be better off if we spent more time boosting our likability than our competence, despite what our clients say out loud.

There may be a better business case for charm school than for business school.

Zen and the Art of Trusted Advisorship

In our Trusted Advisor workshops and coaching engagements, we spend a lot of time on listening. Why? Because not listening is one of the top two causes of trust breakdown. (The other — accelerating too quickly to a solution – is another form of not listening.)

Listening is critical to advice-giving because it’s through listening that we earn the right to offer advice.

There are many reasons we humans do a crappy job of listening. One of my favorites: the little internal voice that clogs our brain with incessant chatter.

(Don’t have a little voice in your head? Your little voice is the one that says, “What little voice? I don’t have a little voice.”)

A 30-second snippet from a typical internal dialogue:

Client: [insert reasonable work-related comments here]

Your little voice: “Uh oh. I should have spent more time preparing for this meeting. You know, I’m not sure I like this guy.”

Client: [insert reasonable work-related comments here]

LV: “I do like his tie. The suit, not so much.”

LV: “Did I remember to take my black suit to the drycleaner?”

Client: [insert reasonable work-related comments here]

LV: “I wish he’d hurry up and finish so I can re-focus this conversation. He’s taken us way off course.”

And so it goes. Like static on a radio station, the little voice interferes with our ability to tune in.

Which begs the question: How to reduce the static to improve our listening so that we, in turn, will be listened to?

Unfortunately, that little voice will never go away – it comes with being human. But there are ways to minimize it. Here are my Top Three:

1. Prepare your mind. This suggestion comes directly from The Trusted Advisor (page 200, if you must know). Train your brain to notice random chatter, and substitute some wry wisdom of your own choosing. Examples:

“I am not the center of the universe.

"It’s a ‘we’ game, not a ‘me’ game.”

“A point of view doesn’t commit you for life.”

“Knowing the truth is better than not knowing it.”

You can also make this part of your pre-flight checklist before your next big client meeting.

2. Get a little Zen. When the chatter arises, notice and observe it; raise your consciousness about it in the moment and gently but swiftly return your focus to the real conversation at-hand. This is similar to the practice that experienced meditators use of returning to the breath when “monkey mind” (a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree) takes over.

3. Think out loud. Get the chatter out of your head and into the conversation. This is especially valuable when your little voice is expressing a concern. Here are some examples:

LV: “He seems distracted.”

What you might say: “Let’s take a time out to be sure we’re going in the right direction with this conversation.”

LV: “I’m not sure she understands what I’m getting at.”

What you might say: “At the risk of appearing a little assertive here, may I be blunt?”

LV: “I am doing a lot of talking; someone shut me up!”

What you might say: “I’m hearing myself doing a lot of the talking here. What haven’t I asked about that’s important for me to know?”

This one requires some risk-taking. As does all trust.

You’re not crazy for having the little voice; you’re human. Do your clients – and yourself – a favor by training your brain to tune chatter out, client in. By listening, you earn the right to be listened to.