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Establishing Intimacy That Won't Get You Fired or Arrested


November 13, 2019


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The calendar turned on one of my friends recently and I wanted to wish her a happy birthday. We were pretty close in high school and college but we’ve lost touch in recent years. Over the last 24 months we’ve seen one another exactly twice (one at her wedding, the other at mine). I wanted to do something a little more personal than a Facebook post. I decided a text was the way to go. I thought about calling her but it was 7:30 in the morning (6:30 her time). And I knew if I waited to do it later I would forget.

You can tell a lot about your relationship with a person by how you wish them a happy birthday.

In order from less-personal to most-personal, I’d imagine the steps could go something like this…

  1. Wish them a happy birthday using that convenient little Facebook function.
  2. Write your own post on Facebook and tag them. Two sentences or more with your well-wishes.
  3. Text them.
  4. The same as #2 but with a picture.
  5. Post several pictures, a miniature album if you will, of you and that person together through the years. Include a message. Post on Facebook and Instagram and other sites.
  6. Send them a card.
  7. Call them.
  8. Send them a card and call them.
  9. Participate in their birthday celebration. Together in person.
  10. Plan their birthday celebration. (The Spinal Tap, take-it-to-11 scenario would be if the celebration you planned for them was a surprise party.)

We have business relationships, too. And, like personal relationships, not all business relationships are equal. Some have established more intimacy than others.

Successful people foster intimate relationships in professional settings. Not in the Bill Clinton way. In the trust and confidence way. I know it’s a little weird to use the i-word in this context, but it works. Someone needs to grow more intimate with you before they decide to hire you. Or partner with you. Or work for you. Or take any of the actions we’d like them to eventually take with us.

Someone’s willingness to grow professionally intimate with you – as well as the speed at which they do it – is partially up to them. It takes time and establishing a certain level of comfort on their end and a bunch of things that are our of your control.

But it’s also up to you. If you want someone to feel better about the prospect of working with you in any capacity, you can just start by treating them that way. Show them what it feels like to have a friend, adviser, consultant, partner or confidant and they’ll more likely become that.

If all your ever doing is (metaphorically) writing on someone’s Facebook wall for their birthday, you can’t be upset when they don’t (metaphorically) call you on yours. Makes sense, right?

So here’s another list of steps. Consider this an outline of relational intimacy in a professional context.

  1. You connect on LinkedIn.
  2. You have a conversation at a networking event and exchange business cards.
  3. You have coffee.
  4. You have lunch.
  5. You add this person to your “mailing” list.
  6. You have lunch or coffee more than once and often stay in touch in between.
  7. You hire one another.
  8. You call one another regularly to share ideas and help one another.
  9. You start your own networking or mastermind group together.
  10. You hire their family members.

Think about it this way. Your connections fall under all different places on this list. The most are in stages 1 and 2. Only a small amount are in 7 and above.

You would consider 2015 a good year if you could move more of the people currently residing in stages 3-6 up a few places, right? Maybe a couple more 7’s?

Don’t you think your 3-6’s want the same for themselves, too?

You bet they do. So here’s an idea. Start thinking about your relationships in stage 7 or higher. Think about how you talk to one another. And the ways you spend time together. What rituals do you share? In what ways do you offer value into your respective lives?

Then, go to everyone lower down on the list and start treating them like they’re higher. Don’t take it too far, obviously. Maybe a 1-2 stage upgrade (for free). Email someone you met at a networking event and offer to buy them lunch. Reach out to someone you went to lunch with 6 months ago and ask how you can help them meet more people. Introduce your clients to one another. Introduce your clients to potential new clients.

They say fish only grow in proportion to their tank. Meaning the same fish will likely grow larger if it’s placed in a larger tank. That’s a pretty good metaphor for all of your relationships – especially your “professional” ones.

Be someone worth hanging out with. Worth helping. Worth working with. Don’t wait for other people to establish intimacy because other people are waiting for you.

Begin the courtship. Enlarge the fish tank. Lead the dance.