“Nothing personal!” that’s the line and the advice we’ve all been taught to practice in business. The idea has always been to keep your distance and play down emotions in professional dealings. Yet time and again I’m hearing something quite different. Colleagues and clients say that their long term business relationships are the ones that share something intimate, that display the same give and take we all want in a personal relationship.
- Tough love. It used to be that bad news needed to be delivered diplomatically. But as one 20 year Edelman client put it: “I urge my team to report the good, the bad and the ugly, and always give me the ugly immediately.” He added: “If my idea is wrong, I want substantiated info as to why and a valid alternative.”
- Vulnerability. Owning up to your failures helps create a bond. Once, I hired a high profile TV host to announce a national contest with a client’s sponsorship fee. Unbeknownst to me, my colleague contracted another emcee for the same gig. I told the client immediately, admitted my mistake and asked which one they wanted. The response: “If you can get them to work together, we’ll pay for both.” Easier said than done — these guys were competitors. I took a breath, called the one I booked and explained. He raged for five minutes. When I could speak, I said “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Now let me help you break my arm.” He paused, laughed and said, “Okay. We’ll work it out.”
- Passion. It’s essential to work hard to keep the chemistry alive that sparked the partnership. I knew an account executive who bonded with the CEO during a new business pitch. They were both runners, and always found ways to heighten the attachment. Since the company marketed athletic shoes, he volunteered to be part of its “wear testing” program on his own. He soon became very vocal about how the brand’s benefits could be enhanced. No wonder the CEO valued the relationship. Our PR pro spent at least seven hours a week logging more than 50 miles in the company’s different sneaker lines, or 360 hours and 2,900 miles a year. He did this not because it was his job, but because it was his passion.
If treating your business associates with a sense of intimacy seems a little untoward, give it try. It may be just the catalyst you need.
Janice Rotchstein is Edelman’s chief quality officer.