Why being good at friendship matters for professionals


Category : Weekly-ish tips March 21, 2022

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

A salient comment from a VP-level participant in one of our recent programs got me thinking about a tip I wrote nearly seven years ago, so I’m reprising it now. The comment basically drew a clear connection between establishing trust with a business colleague and building trust with a friend. It stuck a chord with me because I’ve come to believe that friendship skills play a critical role in business, and particularly in sales.

Unfortunately, a lot of us have a natural—or learned—tendency to keep our professional relationships and our friendships separate, often working hard to keep a solid boundary between the two. As a result, our friendship skills go untapped. Or worse, they wither.

David Maister, one of the original authors of The Trusted Advisor, published an article in 2005 advocating for the blurring of those very boundaries. Maister asserted a direct connection between your ability to make friends and your ability to cultivate business. “The way most clients choose among professionals is essentially identical to the way people choose their friends,” he wrote.

More specifically, Maister suggested that when it comes to deciding which professionals to work with, clients will choose you if you can do four things:

  1. Put them at ease
  2. Make it comfortable for them to share fears and concerns
  3. Be trusted to look after them, not just their transaction
  4. Prove you are dependably on their side.

None of which transpires from the buttoned-up business persona that many are tempted to assume in the name of “professionalism.”

To be clear, there is a distinction between seeking BFFs at work and bringing your friendship skills to bear. The latter is essential, the former a nice byproduct.

Maister asserts there are people in this world who have a talent for friendship. Are you one of them? If you’re not, worry not, he also reminds us the we don’t have to be a natural to get better at it; we just have to be willing to work on it.

Make It Real

This week, develop your talent for friendship by seeking out a conversation with someone with whom you either know or suspect you have little in common. Make it your mission to find an overlap—any overlap. As Maister says, “Someone can be your friend if you have anything in common. You don’t need a majority of things in common.”

Learn More

Read more about how friendship skills impact the buying process, thanks to our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or refresh on the power of listening (and how to do it well) in Chapter 6 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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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).

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