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Saturday, June 12, 2010

How was your weekend?

When building a relationship with another person at a company you do business with, the temptation or opportunity to move that relationship beyond a business relationship can occur. It can be initiated mutually, or by one side when there is something that side perceives they will gain. Schmoozing is what best describes this form of communication. The definition of Schmooze is:

Main Entry: Schmooze
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): schmoozed or shmoozed; schmooz·ing or shmooz·ing
Etymology: Yiddish shmuesn, from schmues talk, from Hebrew shĕmu'ōth news, rumor
Date: 1884

intransitive verb : to converse informally : chat; also : to chat in a friendly and persuasive manner especially so as to gain favor, business, or connections transitive verb : to engage in schmoozing with

— schmooz·er \ˈshmü-zər\ noun

A solid business relationship is built when each side has an equal amount to gain from the relationship, and when one side gains an advantage, problems start, and the relationship will usually falter.

At a high level, executives get to know each other outside work all the time. Many companies frown on this, and while I agree with the initial perception of a conflict of interest, I can attest that some of the strongest and most valuable business relationships I've formed have been when both companies provided equal value to each other, and when the executive level staff spent enough time together so they built a trust of each other, knowing when a problem occurred, they each could fall back on the relationship they'd built to move past the issues, getting the business relationship back on track. If a catastrophic problem happened, the business relationship may be fractured, but the business bond these individuals had formed would usually transcend the companies they owned or worked for, and their paths would again cross as a result of the individual bond they'd built. The other component to this relationship is talent, allowing a bond to form by two peers with common interests and solid values, and their ability to solve issues and always strive to move their organizations forward without compromising their integrity.

At a staffing level, the playing field is similar, yet the need to communicate more frequently and the inexperience of the staff members in situations like these can make the situations that may arise a bit trickier.

How much small talk is too much? What do you do when the relationship moves from purely business and an innocent comment like "how was your weekend?" to "will you be my Facebook friend?", or "we should get together sometime."

As an employer, those last two scenarios can be seen as harmless by some, but in many cases they can be the beginning of the end for what the Executives thought was a solid business relationship. If my employee becomes friends with your employee will that influence their business decisions? If they're sleeping together and then one pulls the plug, will that affect my business relationship I've built on a high level with a client who sees value in our product or services? Is one of those people capable of having a hidden agenda that could really cause problems?

In thirty plus years of working in offices, I've learned some lessons the hard way, and my philosophy nowadays is to keep my business and personal life as separate as possible. I encourage our employees to do the same. I love hearing my people did a great job, and I know when you do enough great jobs you'll start getting closer to a client, or vice versa, as it will influence the amount of work that flows between two companies. I'd always prefer to be judged on what I do, and not on what I said I could do, or in a way which could be perceived as a conflict of interest in a manner which could affect my relationship with my employer, my client, or my company.

So, what do you do when a relationship that was friendly starts getting too friendly?

Find easy ways to identify these situations and without offending the other person, drop hints that hopefully they will understand over time:

1. Find things to say when the conversation goes in the wrong direction, i.e.

A) "I've got a call coming in on the other line, can I get back to you?"

B) "Can you hang on a minute?"

Place hand over mouthpiece on phone and say
"Just a minute"

Remove hand and say:
"Sorry about that, can I give you a call back later, I've gotta run.."

C) If my wife heard you talking like that I'm not sure who would be in more trouble, you or me.

OK, just kidding about the last one, but you get the idea. Find ways to catch the tone going the wrong direction early and find a way to move on. Don't avoid the person, keep consistent with your desire to be friendly and occasionally chat on an impersonal level, but at all costs, avoid getting into your personal lives other than you have a great family or you are happily single or whatever. I tell my people to stay away from the details or the next thing you know you will be sitting in someone's office listening to something you don't want other people to hear as the conflict of interest or the content of your conversation will clearly indicate this got way beyond the point of "how was your weekend?". That can cause more problems than you want to deal with at your job, and how would you feel if the other person got fired and you initiated the conversation, or you played along.

Business is business, and your ability to develop a reputation for delivering a product or service will take you places in your career. If you can do that while having a little personality, being a nice person with good morals, you will succeed in business. By not crossing the business to personal line, you will be ahead of the game. When it happens and you didn't initiate it, be prepared to control the situation with the fine art of bringing it back to business when it crosses the line. This is a trait you want in your tool box and it will help carry you a long way in your road to personal success in your business career.