This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.

I did something unconventional a couple of weeks ago: I called Dave, who I’ll characterize as “possible client” for simplicity, in the middle of the day on a Sunday. We’ve never met and haven’t exchanged more than a couple of emails in the last couple of years. Dave was so struck by my reach-out that he dared me to write about it*. So here I am.

Here’s a little background on the Dave situation, and what led to my phone call:

  • I refer to Dave (which is his actual name) as “possible client” mostly because I don’t know how else to characterize him. While he *is* a senior leader in the kind of firm we routinely serve, our exchanges over the years have never been about working together, and when we interact that’s not top of mind for me. Our connection runs deeper than all that. But it’s the kind of situation that *could* hook me into a state of high self-orientation, and I think that’s worth noting.
  • I can’t even remember how we first connected. It was years ago—like, eight or ten, maybe. I think Dave reached out to me based on a blog Charlie Green and/or I had written that resonated.
  • We’ve never met, and we rarely talk. Ours is predominantly an email relationship, marked by occasional exchanges. I do remember one phone call quite some time ago when I asked his advice about a social media situation because I knew I could trust his response. We came dangerously close to meeting in person for coffee once when business travel took him to the city I was living in then, but it never materialized. I recall another near miss when we were both in Los Angeles at the same time.
  • Our exchanges are always spirited. We’ve somehow managed to create a collegial and virtual friendship that includes good fun and good banter. Last fall was no exception when Dave reached out randomly to suggest a video catch-up. I was completely under water with client deadlines, and I let his email linger in my inbox for way too long—for which I was later razzed.

That brings us to a few Sundays ago, when I was determined to clean out my email inbox before a new work week began in the new year. I started to write Dave an email reply when I decided it would be way less lame—and considerably more personal—to pick up the phone. I checked his email signature for a mobile number and dialed.

He didn’t answer, so I left a voice mail basically saying, I know it’s Sunday and I know this is odd, but it just somehow seemed like the right way to reconnect, and of course there is no obligation to call me back ever, let alone today. I then sent a text message with the same basic content.

My phone rang a few minutes later. Turns out Dave was in the middle of cleaning up his kitchen after making a messy batch of Cuban pulled pork while also watching football with his youngest son who was returning to college the following day. He called me anyway. He teased me for doing crazy things like calling people I don’t know on a Sunday, and I teased him about being crazy enough to call back. We had one of the most delightful conversations I remember having in a long time with anyone. We laughed a lot, which is always an instant connector. And we connected even more deeply when we learned that we both lost a parent in 2021.

Just as we were about to hang up, Dave circled back to my unconventional call and the power of doing unconventional things in business relationships. He and I are both firm believers that “all business is personal” and we have both witnessed first-hand how that indelibly shapes the world of professional services.

For those of you thinking, well sure, there was a happy ending in this case because Dave’s clearly a great guy, you’re not totally wrong. But you’re also not totally right. Personal risk and trust go hand in hand; the riskier the move, the more trust you’re likely to build. That applies to the super nice guys out there like Dave as well as the crankier ones.

Of course it’s possible that a less gracious person might have seen my Sunday call as an intrusion and written me off for good despite my carefully worded voice mail and text. But then I’d be freed up to invest my time and nonconformity in the Daves of the world. And that’d be a beautiful thing, because it’s precisely these kinds of interactions that keep me fueled, optimistic, and believing in the power of personal connection.

*For the record, I counter-dared Dave to write something in his own blog about his experience of our exchange.

Make It Real

This week, look for an opportunity to reach out in an unconventional way. Dare to make a more personal connection with someone than you ever have before. What do you discover—about the relationship and about yourself?

Learn More

Read about four ways to make your client reach-outs stand apart, or brush up on the relationship between trust-building and risk taking in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

Your move, Dave.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).