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Intimacy 201

At first blush, intimacy is a strange word to use in a business context. "What, I’m supposed to intimate with my clients?" In the sense that being intimate means being familiar, informal, and emotionally connected…yes, indeed.

Intimacy is one of the four components of the Trust Equation and it usually gets the short-shrift. For most, it’s more natural to build trust by increasing credibility and reliability. And yet, without intimacy, business transactions are just that–transactions–and the "safe haven" experience that is the hallmark of Trusted Advisor relationships is a pipe dream.

Here is a Top 10 list of intimacy-builders to help answer the question, "How do I build intimacy with my clients?"

Caveat: While the three  groupings (Be Positive, Be Personal, Be Bold) are relatively universal, the specifics underneath are written from a U.S. orientation (mine) and should be adapted as appropriate to fit different cultural norms.

Be Positive

1. Tell your client something you appreciate about him. Don’t just think it; say it. "Amal, before we dig into our agenda today, I just wanted to say I really appreciate how you handled the meeting yesterday. You were clear and direct while also listening to the concerns that were raised. I think it made a difference for the staff."

2. Celebrate successes together. Give the tendency to be a Task Master a little reprieve. Suggest meetings, coffees, lunches–whatever–that are specifically focused on reflecting on/toasting a job well done.

Be Personal

3. Use your client’s name when you communicate with him/her. They say your own name is the sweetest music to your ears. Address your client personally in your emails, voicemails, and conversations.

4. Use colloquial language. Check the consulting jargon and multi-syllablic words at the door. Practice human talk. Simple. Straightforward. To the point.

5. Be empathic in all your interactions. Empathy creates emotional correctedness. Stop to demonstrate that you’re really tuned in to what your client is saying (both the words and the "music") before you ask your next question or make your next recommendation. "It’s clear this is a stressful situation, Frank" or "I can appreciate the difficulty in that" or "That sounds like a victory worth celebrating!" (see #2)

6. Be willing to express your own emotions. They’re legit too. "Gee, Johannes, I must confess to feeling pretty frustrated by what you just said" or "You have no idea how happy I am to hear that."

7.  Share something personal. The next time you’re doing the Monday morning how-was-your-weekend-fine-thanks-yours bit, don’t let it stop at a superficial exchange. "My weekend was great, Surita, thanks for asking. My parents were in town and Sam and I really enjoyed the built-in babysitting. We got a much-needed break."

Be Bold

8. Acknowledge uncomfortable situations. Caveats are conversational jewels: "Wow, this is awkward…" or "I wish I had better news…" or "The timing with this is embarrassing…"

9. Say what needs to be said. Practice doing it in 10 words or less. "We’re not going to make the deadline" or "We just don’t have the executive sponsorship we need" or "Jim is leaving the team." The direct approach works especially well in combination with caveats (see #8).

10. Take responsibility for mistakes. Yeah, it’s risky. It’s also human (we all make ’em) and refreshingly real. "Janet, part of the problem here is that I dropped the ball."

Of course, none of these "techniques" creates intimacy if they’re forced or disingenuous or robotic. It’s okay (and perfectly natural) to be a little awkward and unpolished–in fact, that just creates more intimacy.

And Better Off for Living on the Edge of Life

P. has multiple myeloma, a particularly virulent and incurable form of cancer. Median survival is 50-55 months.

This is from a letter she sent yesterday to family and friends:

Yup. I am on the train, heading west. Not Kansas City, but Winona, MN via Amtrak. From there, a limo ride will take me to Rochester, Minnesota & the famed Mayo Clinic.

Today has been full of ‘deja vu’ experiences; it was almost exactly 15 years ago (October, 1994) that Husband 1 & I drove from [hometown] to Mayo Clinic, still reeling from the news of a dreadful diagnosis. I was suffering from a sinus infection in addition to a deep sense of despair. The multiple myeloma had invaded 90% of my bone marrow and I was severely anemic. Oooooh, what a difficult time it was — so many of you remember, especially daughter 1 and daughter 2.

Fast forward to today! Husband 1 is accompanying me again, since Husband 2 has very limited time off from his job. I am feeling good, my body having had 2 months without the effects of chemotherapy.

Life at home has finally settled into a wonderful rhythm. I breezed through thirteen days of radiation treatments focused on a lime-sized growth on my ribs. These lasted less than 5 minutes & the only side effect was perhaps some fatigue. Most days, I car-pooled with the husband of a dear friend who was also receiving radiation. So the process was quite enjoyable (and was moderately effective, though there is still a growth, the size of a fried egg — sunny side up).

The issue of what to do next was still unresolved. My decision to turn down the clinical trial at State U. was a clear one. However, it brought recognition that I was facing the beginning of the end (Aren’t we all? Every day?)

This decision – to focus on quality rather than quantity, was filled with both sadness & a sense of freedom. Along with making sure that all my affairs were in order (they aren’t – yet), I relished spending time in our woods, either sitting under a favorite tree & listening to the birds heading south, or cutting, hauling, splitting, & stacking wood for our fireplace/stove. We are planning a trip to California over Thanksgiving. I am holding onto the possibility of traveling to both Europe to visit Daughter 2, and a trip to Hawaii with Daughter 1. Have you seen the movie “The Bucket List”? There I was.

Then came a series of events, both big & small, that absolutely FILLED me with energy, enthusiasm, hope, and a sense of direction. To make this story short, I ran across a clinical trial going on at Mayo Clinic that looks very hopeful, requires minimal change in my daily routine, and I believe (fingers crossed) will accept me. This all occurred in about one week, everything falling into place.

Over the past FIFTEEN years, I have come to points such as this, where the end appeared near. And each time, something has shifted. I am here; filled to overflowing with gratitude, surrounded by love, a bit worse for the wear, but thoroughly enjoying the ride.

And better off for living on the edge of life.

To Hug or Not to Hug?

I’ve had several awkward moments greeting several different clients in the past few months, where the unspoken question for both of us has been, “To hug or not to hug?” The question seems to arise with clients who fall in two categories:

1 – Business friends – these are clients with whom I don’t necessarily socialize outside of work, but with whom I have established a relationship that’s far more than strictly business — a relationship marked by candor, warmth, genuine caring, and the easy exchange of personal as well as business information.

2 – Personal friends who have become clients – these are clients with whom I had a personal relationship long before we did any work together.

The dilemma arises when a handshake seems completely inauthentic because it’s too formal and distant, and yet a hug seems out of place in a business setting. So what usually results is a really awkward, jerky-movement thing, like two chickens in a barnyard – one of us sticks out our hand while the other moves in for a light embrace, then we both pull back and switch, trying to match the others’ first move.

Trusted Advisor work teaches us to seek intimacy — not fear it – through emotional connectedness with clients; to dare to show clients that we care about them and that we see them more as human beings than walking, talking revenue streams. And yet the question, “To hug or not to hug?” raises all kinds of ancillary questions. Such as:

-What if my client doesn’t like to hug anyone, let alone his or her consultant?

-Should the rules be different depending on whether my client is a man or a woman? The same gender or the opposite gender?

-What if someone else who is “outside” the relationship is there to witness (or be left out of) the hug?

-What is the equivalent dilemma in a country with different cultural norms, where hugging might be completely off the table but kissing might not?

-How much is too much? Where do we draw the line?

Your thoughts?