A business relationship is more about mutual benefit than loyalty and trust. It is always better to understand and know what kind of friend/employee/employer your business associate is than to be surprised when their ‘just business’ stance puts you at a disadvantage.
Full disclosure: I am an acting coach, but I am about to give you a phenomenally powerful business tip. My industry— entertainment—is as cut-throat as they come. It is intensely competitive and filled with risks and disappointments. From established and high-profile actors to those just starting out, my clients often face the same challenges as their counterparts in the business world. And as in any business, relationships play an enormous role in success.
Something I have seen over and over with my clients is that it is way too common to think of a business relationship as a friendship and assume a level of loyalty. Then they are astonished to find that when it comes to that loyalty, business is business: nothing personal.
A client of mine was talking about how great his relationship was with his new agent—as in, “We’re like best friends, she really looks out for me.” My radar was already going off: since he had switched representation, this client, a gifted actor, had been chasing parts with little success. Granted, booking certain parts can feel like passing through the eye of a needle—with immense competition, the odds are pretty slim. But I was not surprised when that client came to my studio soon after and said the agent had gone to bat for another actor she represented for the very same part he was vying for. He felt terribly betrayed.
The reality is abundantly clear, should you be willing to accept it. True loyalty has little value or place in business. It is not that kindness and loyalty are non-existent. We have all worked with people we felt we could count on, and people that are a pleasure to be around. But what makes a business relationship a good one is not loyalty. It is whether or not that partner is performing up to your standards. If so, you should continue with them. If not, by all means, drop them and find someone better—which is exactly what I suggested my client do. But it works both ways: if your performance becomes substandard, do not be surprised if your partner drops you for someone else.
Why do we confuse professional and personal relationships? One key reason is that we forget the differences:
Different deceptions, different strategies
Both professional and personal relationships are fraught with the possibility of disappointment, exploitation, and jealousy. But there is a key difference. In personal relationships, revelations around poor performance and disloyalty tend to be easily spotted and addressed. Professional deceptions can be much harder to deal with and recognise.
I recommend that my clients never forget that the people with whom you do business are not your friends or family. They are your business associates. This does not mean you should not appreciate genuine, well-intentioned behaviour on their part. It just means you need to keep your eyes open. Do not blindly or naively place your trust in a business associate. Know in your heart that they will always be looking out for themselves first. Understanding this, you can move forward to manage these relationships with grace, dignity, and confidence.
Three kinds of friendships
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that every relationship falls into one of three categories: 1. The relationship of advantage: This is a relationship where the other person is profitable to you in some way. And it is very likely that you are profitable to them.
2. The relationship of comfort: This relationship is based on someone’s company or association you find pleasurable, as in fun friends.
3. The relationship of value: This is a relationship based on mutual appreciation and esteem. This type of relationship is based on agreed-upon ethics and takes longer to build.
According to Aristotle, the first two do not last as long as the third kind of relationship. It is worth keeping these categories in mind as you examine your own—both personal and professional.
From a business standpoint, this also helps you stay clear on the realities of who you are dealing with. And know that it is fine to have a wonderful relationship with your business connections, just as long as you resolve to remain aware of the dynamics.
It is always better to understand and know what kind of friend/employee/employer your business associate is than to be surprised when their ‘just business’ stance puts you at a disadvantage. And as long as you live within your own moral code, you can take whatever action you believe is best—and lower your risk of being caught vulnerable by someone you thought was your business BFF.
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